Why is registering voters just as important as getting voters to the polls on Election Day? Because on Election Day in the majority of states, "no registration" is equivalent to "no vote." Admittedly, there are seven states (Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming) that allow Election Day (same-day) registration, and there is one state, North Dakota, where no registration is required. But, for the vast majority of eligible voters, voter registration in advance of Election Day is essential.
There is an additional reason why it's crucial to get eligible voters registered: In the three previous presidential elections, more than 80 percent of all registered voters went to the polls on Election Day!
Eligible Voter Turnout vs. Regitered Voter Turnout
Voter turnout can be calculated in two ways: (1) based on total number of eligible voters--defined as 18 or older, U.S. citizens and, depending on state law, nonfelons--or (2) based on total number of registered voters.
When discussing the importance of get-ting-out-the-vote, experts often emphasize low voter turnout statistics, citing a voter turnout percentage based on the number of eligible voters. The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, reports that in the three previous presidential elections--2004, 2000 and 1996-the percentage of voter turnout (based on eligible voters 18 and older) was 63.8 percent, 59.5 percent and 58.4 percent, respectively. More than 50 percent--but not by much.
On the other hand, the voter turnout for those same years, based on the number of registered voters, is 88.5 percent, 85.5 percent and 82.3 percent as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. This method of calculation shows a 25 percent greater turnout! It shows that most people who are registered to vote actually do vote on Election Day.
Simply put, the problem is that in 2004, 2000 and 1996, 27.9 percent, 30.5 percent and 29.1 percent of eligible voters were not registered to vote. If these eligible voters were registered to vote, would they vote at the same 80-90 precent rate of registered voters as in the past three presidential elections? A reasonable assumption, it seems. This means 44--49 million more people would have voted in 2004. Let's get them registered!
Who's Registering Voters?
The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a Federal law, requires states to offer voter registration sevices to all clients at their departments of motor vehicles and public assistance agencies. The NVRA was designed to make it helped in the first two years.
In the ensuing years, however, many states of the NVRA. In fact, litigation is either procceding or being contemplated in some states (see "Compliance with the NVRA: Not Optional" in the February 2008 National Voter, pp. 10-13). In those states where concerned organizations have worked with local authorities to provide better services to their clients, registration numbers have increased--proof positive that progress can be made when government agencies comply with the NVRA.
Given states' noncompliance with NVRA directives, voter registration drives fill a critical need. Furthermore, registration drives especially serve those people who have trouble obtaining a registration form, filling it out properly and delivering it to the proper authorities. This is where the...