Washington State voter registration form

Five things you may not know about voting

The Trump election integrity commission thrust voter registration records into the spotlight last week. The gnashing of teeth that followed that request sparked this review of voter registration lists, vote by mail, what the U.S. constitution says about elections, same day voter registration, and open primaries.

1. Basic voter registration information is a public record in most states.

Voter registration came about in the late 1800s, requiring county officials to keep voter registration rolls. Basic information — name, address, voting record, data of birth — is a public record (with strings attached) and may be free for the asking, so long as you say you aren’t “commercial.”

Exceptions: many states have address confidentiality laws and some protect voter registration records. You have to be in a protected category and follow your state’s procedures for listing. These states do not appear to have laws or programs to protect addresses: AL, GA, HI, IL, MI, SC, SD, UT, WY. The other 41 states may or may not include voter registration records in their address confidentiality programs.

Basic voter registration information does NOT include the last four digits of your social security number. Or who you voted for (secret ballot). Or if you were a felon. Or had registered in another state. All things that the Kobach letter asked for, without justification.

Compare New Hampshire and Washington to see how states differ in who has access. And the cost of obtaining the data set. From the US Elections Project (2015 data):

State law is the reason that elections officials responded the way that they did to the letter from Kris Kobach last week: we’ll give you public info but nothing else.

Unless state law expressly prohibits sharing the data with another government agency, states will probably (IANAL) be legally required to hand over the data that they would share with any other requester.

Want to tighten the requirements for releasing voter registration data in your state? Lobby for change!

2. Some states vote by mail (think, permanent absentee).

Oregon was the first state to vote 100% by mail, followed by Washington. Colorado has joined the vote by mail family, but is in the last stages of the transition period (which is the most expensive). California will begin holding all-mail elections in 2018.

Arizona, California, Montana and Hawaii allow permanent absentee voting. This means that they run parallel voting systems: one by mail, one at the polls. Duplicative. Expensive.

Vote by mail is more convenient for most citizens (the ballot comes to you weeks in advance and you don’t have to stand on line to cast a ballot). It eliminates the need for extensive early voting polling locations, although there remains a need for some accessible voting centers. It eliminates the security risk of transporting and storing computers at the polls. It centralizes ballot processing, reducing the number of people needed and insuring all are trained and paid (no volunteers).

Here’s another reason, not cited often, for vote by mail: intimidation at the polls.

There was a lot of noise last year about efforts to “watch” the polls. Every American has the right to vote free of intimidation and discrimination. Everyone.

Eliminate polls, eliminate the opportunity for intimidation. And yes, there were rumblings in Washington last year about “watching” ballot drop box locations but they didn’t materialize. I’m thinking strategically-placed GoPro cameras to nix that mischief.

Want to improve election security and ballot access while reducing election costs? Lobby for change!

3. The Constitution places oversight of voting in the hands of the states.

Another reason state elections officials may have reacted so strongly to the Kobach letter is this: everything (pretty much) related to voting rests with the states.

The Constitution authorizes state legislatures to choose the “times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives” but gives Congress authority to “make or alter such regulations.” Congress has very little authority over state or local elections, which have far more races and measures than the three federal offices: U.S. senator, representative and president.

Congress has passed only a few laws that regulate elections, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (Kobach has been overruled by the courts in his attempts to circumvent this law); and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

The result is a very decentralized election administration system, where no state runs its elections exactly like another state.

4. Some states allow you to register to vote on the day of the election.

Most Americans (3-in-5) believe we should make it as easy to vote as possible. The remainder think your actions should reflect the importance of voting: plan, dadgumit, and register in advance!

A large majority of Democrats (84%) say that voting should be made as easy as possible for citizens. By contrast, just 35% of Republicans favor making voting as easy as possible, while 63% say citizens should have to prove they really want to vote by registering ahead of time. Among independents, more say it should be easy for citizens to vote (57%) than say they should have to prove they really want to vote (41%).

State law hasn’t followed public opinion.

Most states have a voter registration cut-off in advance of election day but a growing number of states have same day voter registration. This means that a citizen, who shows proper identification, can update a voter registration or register to vote on the day of an election.

These are the progressive states as far as voter registration practice (SDVR):

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Connecticut
  4. District of Columbia
  5. Hawaii
  6. Idaho
  7. Illinois
  8. Iowa
  9. Maine
  10. Maryland
  11. Minnesota
  12. Montana
  13. New Hampshire
  14. Ohio
  15. Vermont
  16. Wisconsin
  17. Wyoming

Want to make it easier to vote in your state? Lobby for change!

5. Three states have open primaries for state and local contests.

If you live in Washington, Louisiana or California, you live in what is effectively an open primary state. In these states, if no candidate wins a majority of the vote in the primary election, then the top two candidates advance to the “general” election, regardless of political party.

As a result, there is no political party registration in Washington, with the exception of every four years for the presidential caucus/primary.

Want to reduce the influence of political parties in your state? Lobby for change!

Want to know more about voting rights?



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Header image from King County Elections


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Posted at 11:50 pm Pacific, 4 July 2017

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