It’s easier to order a pad thai (easy on the chili), reserve a flight, pay a cable bill, look for a lost dog, all whilst sitting on the toilet — than it is to register to vote in America!
Why is it that a process so vital to the strength of the world’s leading democracy is so archaic? So complex and cumbersome that over 51 million Americans are not registered to vote.
Let’s break it down. One quarter of the entire American population who are allowed to vote could not vote in the 2008 election. That means that a whole swathe of this great nation is not making their voice heard at pinnacle democratic moments. I repeat ONE QUARTER.
Guess who most of these unregistered are? Young people (41% of 18–24yr olds), Hispanics (40% unregistered), Asian-Americans (45% unregistered) and those on a low income. Comparatively, only 27% of white Americans aren’t registered. Those who aspire to create a more diverse, fair and modern America — and embody that new America — are exactly the people who are unable to vote.
We need our elections to offer a fair representation of the wonderfully diverse makeup of this country. Especially since there is such tremendous growth in these demographies in recent years.
The number of eligible Latino voters more than DOUBLED from 2000 (13.2m) to 2016 (27.3m) driven by young millennials. A Latino turns 18 every 60 seconds in this country, meaning that 44% of the total eligible Latino vote is driven by young people. The type of people who yearn for a modern America that reflects all of our voices, needs and ambitions.
So how is the 2nd biggest democracy in the world (after India) so seemingly undemocratic when it comes to voting?
Here’s where the badly functioning, hugely outdated voter system comes in. Each state manages voter registrations independently, often compiling voter information by hand. The info is entered by humans, meaning inevitable errors. There is an inadequate system for the removal of the dead off of rolls, as well as for changes of address. The onus is on YOU to register through the archaic system and to keep records up to date as you move around the country, whether for college or a new job.
Let’s pause for a second and reflect on how voter registration works back from where I’m from — the sunny British Isles. When you move into a property in, say Camden in London, you register to pay local taxes and are AUTOMATICALLY registered to vote. Every year you receive a letter and email confirming your voter details, and offering the chance to amend this information online. Meaning that with next to no effort people can vote in local, national and (well maybe not post-Brexit) European elections.
Why does Automatic Voter Registration exist in so few states in America? (Currently in Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut).
It’s time to change the archaic voter registration system, starting in New York and moving to other states beyond.
A growing movement of liberals and conservatives are calling on New York’s State Legislature to pass Automatic Voter Registration this year. As proposed, New York would implement a modern system that automatically registers people to vote when they start classes at a SUNY or CUNY school, or apply for a driver’s license, learner’s permit, state ID, unemployment, housing benefits, public assistance, or disability services. The new system will also automatically update voter registration information when voters move within New York and allow pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds so you’re all ready to vote once you turn 18.
Oregon began automatically registering eligible voters last January. Registrations at the DMV nearly quadrupled. In one year, a staggering 292,000 new voters were registered. In the 2016 election, Oregonians cast a record-breaking 2 million votes.
If these numbers are any guide, New York could add 4+ million new voters to rolls with Automatic Voter Registration.
All in all, Automatic Voter Registration will bring more young and diverse people into the electoral process and make sure more voices are heard in elections. It’ll also reduce voter fraud by ensuring that voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date. At a time when protecting our democracy is more important than ever, automatic registration could be the single most important and impactful change we could make to our political system.
So how can you help? You knew there was an ask — this is the age of action not just words after all!
Tally Up NY is a new campaign urging Governor Cuomo and New York State Legislators to pass Automatic Voter Registration. You can find your state representatives on Tally Up’s website, and use their phone script to tell your reps that they should support Automatic Voter Registration. You can also call your reps to set up a meeting in their home offices — where you, and your neighbors, can meet your representatives face-to-face to tell them how important it is to bring more people into the political process with Automatic Voter Registration.
Visit www.tallyupny.org to learn more.
Alex Franklin is a extraordinary British alien resident who dreams of one day being able to vote in America.