motor voter law

Voter registration

Voter registration is the requirement in some democracies for citizens and residents to check in with some central registry specifically for the purpose of being allowed to vote in elections. An effort to get people to register is known as a voter registration drive.

Centralized/compulsory vs. opt-in

In some countries, including most developed countries, registration is the responsibility of the government, either local or national; and in over 30 countries some form of compulsory voting is required as part of each citizen's civic duty. Even in many countries where the voting itself is not compulsory, registering one's place of residence with some government agency is required, which automatically constitutes voter registration for citizens, and in some cases residents, of the required age. In other countries, however, people eligible to vote must "opt in" to be permitted to participate in voting, generally by filling out a specific form registering them to vote. Governments registering people has been shown to be one of the most powerful predictors of high voting turnout levels.

Even in countries where registration is the individual's responsibility, many reformers, seeking to maximize voter turnout, have pushed for wider availability of the required forms; one such effort in the United States led to the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter Law") and similar laws, which required states to offer voter registration at motor vehicle departments (driver's license offices) as well as disability centers, public schools, and public libraries, and to accept mail-in voter registration.

Same-day voter registration or Election Day Registration

Same day registration is also known as Election Day Registration. Seven states in the US do not require advance registration, instead allowing voters to register when they arrive at the polls or, in the case of North Dakota, eliminating the registration step altogether. Five of these seven rank highest in the nation in voter turnout.

Effects and controversy

Laws requiring individual voters to register, as opposed to having the government register people automatically, have a strong correlation with lower numbers of people turning out to vote where voting is voluntary. This lower turnout is especially concentrated among low-income voters and young voters — i.e., those least likely to vote no matter what the registration requirements. Because of this, they are often controversial; some advocate for their abolition. Other groups, while not agreeing with this specific suggestion, argue that the laws should be reformed, for instance, allowing voters to register on the day of the election. This tactic, called Election Day Registration, has been adopted by several U.S. states: Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Registration of voters in various countries

Systems of voter registration vary widely from country to country. In some, voters are automatically added to the rolls when they reach legal voting age. In others, potential voters are required to apply to be added to the rolls.

Australia

The Australian Electoral Commission administers Australia's federal electoral roll. Each state also has its own electoral commission or office, but voters need only register with the AEC, which passes the registration details to relevant state commissions.

Voter Registration is mandatory for all citizens 18 years of age or above. An individual has 8 weeks after turning 18 to register, but may register at any time with no penalty being enforced for failure to register. Similarly, if a change of address causes an individual to move to another electorate (Electoral Division) they are legally obliged to notify the Electoral Commission within 8 weeks. In Australia, details of house and apartment sales are in the public domain. The Electoral Commission monitors these and sends a reminder (and the forms) to new residents in case they have moved to another electorate, making compliance with the law much easier.

Periodically the Electoral Commission conducts door-to-door and postal campaigns to try to ensure that all eligible persons are registered in the correct electorate.

The one registration covers Federal, State and Local voter registration. In Australia it is a legal offence to fail to vote (or at the very least, attend a polling station and have one's name crossed off the roll) at any Federal or State election, punishable by a fine. The amount of the fine varies between federal and various state elections. Usually people are issued with warnings when it is found that they have not voted, and they are given an opportunity to show cause for not voting. Acceptable reasons for not voting may include: being in the Accident Department of a Hospital, being ill (requires confirmation), being out of the country on election day, religious objections, being incarcerated etc. I forgot is not considered acceptable and will incur a fine.

Voting is voluntary in local council elections.

Traditionally voters cannot register within three weeks of an election, but in 2004 the Howard Government passed legislation that prevents registration after 8PM on the day that the writs are issued (this can be up to ten days after the election has been announced). This legislation has been considered as controversial by some Australians who contend it disenfranchises first-time voters or those who have forgotten to re-register. To ameliorate this concern, when the Electoral Commission considers an election announcement is likely with a few weeks it conducts public awareness advertising on the need to register or to update registration.

Canada

In Canada, the task of enumeration was handled by the relevant elections bureau such as Elections Canada for the federal level until 1992. Until that time, the task was delegated to temporary employees from the public who were charged with going to each residence in assigned areas to determine the eligible voters for a publicly displayed list for each election. However, this system was discontinued for fiscal reasons in the 1990s in favour of an opt-in option where voters mark their consent to be added the national voters list, or register, on their annual income tax returns. Although this allows the list to be updated annually, there are still complaints of excessive numbers of omissions which needlessly complicates voting for the public and is contributing to a serious decline in the percentage of the population who votes.

The Register is also updated using the following sources:

  • provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars
  • Canada Revenue Agency
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada
  • provincial and territorial vital statistics registrars, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent lists of electors (e.g. British Columbia and Quebec
  • information supplied by electors when they register to vote or revise their information during and between federal electoral events
  • proven electoral lists from other Canadian jurisdictions

Same-day registration is also permitted.

Denmark

All citizens and residents of Denmark are included in the national register, Det Centrale Personregister, where each person is assigned a personal number of ten digits which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system, official record of residence and other purposes, and it is maintained by the Ministry of Welfare (Velfærdsministeriet). All eligible voters receive a card in the mail before each election which shows the date, time and local polling place; it may only be presented at the designated local polling station. Only citizens may vote in national elections, while long-time residents may vote in local and regional elections. Voting is not compulsory.

Finland

Voter registration in Finland is automatic and based on a national population register. Each citizen is assigned a register ID at birth which contains a six digit date of birth, a century marker, and four other characters to make the ID unique which are mostly random, but one of which also indicates the person's sex. Permanent residents appear in this register even if they are not citizens, but this information is marked on the register. People in the register are legally obliged to notify the register keeper of changes of address. Changing the address in the register automatically notifies all other public bodies (for example the tax district for local taxation and the social security authorities) and certain trusted private ones (e.g. banks and insurance companies) making the process of moving residence very simple. Close to election time a notification is mailed to registered persons informing them of the election and where and when to cast their votes. Only citizens may vote in national elections but all residents can vote in local elections.

Germany

All permanent residents of Germany are required to register their place of residence (or the fact that they are homeless) with local government. Citizens who will be age 18 or higher on the day of voting will automatically receive a notification card in the mail some weeks before any election in which they are eligible to vote; for European and local elections, resident citizens of other EU countries will also receive these cards. Polling places have lists of all eligible voters resident in the neighborhood served by the particular station; the voter's I.D. card is checked against these lists before they receive a ballot. Voting is not compulsory.

Mexico

In Mexico, there is a general electoral census. Any citizen of age 18 or greater must go to an electoral office in order to be part of the electoral census. Citizens receive a voting card ("credencial de elector con fotografía") that must show to vote in any election. The same voting card is generally used as a national identity document.

Norway

All citizens and residents of Norway are included in the national register, Folkeregisteret, where each person is assigned a personal number of eleven digits which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system and other purposes, and it is maintained by the tax authorities. All eligible voters receive a card in the mail before each election which shows the date, time and local polling place. Only citizens may vote in national elections, while long time residents may vote in local and regional elections. Voting is not compulsory.

United Kingdom

In the UK voter registration is by law compulsory (when asked to do so), though this is rarely actually enforced. It is not compulsory to vote however. Voters must be on the electoral roll in order to vote in national, local or European elections. A voting card is sent to each registrant shortly before any elections which is used as proof of registration when voting.

The current system of registration, introduced by the Labour government is known as rolling registration whereby electors can register with a local authority at any time of the year. This replaced the twice-yearly census of electors which often disenfranchised those who had moved during the interval between censuses.

Following an experiment in Northern Ireland using personal identifiers, such as National Insurance numbers and signatures, the number of registered electors fell by some ten thousand; it is understood that this may have taken off the electoral roll fictitious voters. The system of individual registration used in Northern Ireland may be piloted in Great Britain if the recently introduced Electoral Administration Bill is made into law in time for the local elections in 2006.

Across the country, the registration of electors is still technically the responsibility of the 'head of the household', a concept seen by some as being somewhat out of step with modern society. This current system is controversial as it is possible for one person to delete people who may live with them from the electoral roll.

United States

Under the United States Constitution, states may not restrict voting rights in ways that infringe one's right to equal protection under the law (Fifteenth Amendment), on the basis of race (Fifteenth Amendment), sex (Nineteenth Amendment), or age for persons age and older (Twenty-Sixth Amendment).

While the federal government has jurisdiction over federal elections, most election laws are decided at the state level and the true authority to interpret and enforce those laws comes at the local level. Because of this, the administration of elections can vary widely across jurisdictions.

Registering to vote is the responsibility of individuals in the United States. Voters are not automatically registered to vote once they reach the age of 18. Every state except North Dakota requires that citizens who wish to vote be registered.

Traditionally, voters had to register at state offices to vote, but in the mid-1990s efforts were made by the federal government to make registering easier, in an attempt to increase turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the "Motor Voter" law) forced state governments to make the voter registration process easier by providing uniform registration services through drivers' license registration centers, disability centers, schools, libraries, and mail-in registration. Some states allow citizens to register to vote on the same day of the election, known as Election Day Registration. States with same-day registration are exempt from Motor Voter, namely: Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.Voters may register at the local election office (which is usually at city or town hall) or, one may call the election department and request a voter registration form through the mail. Voter registration forms may be found at public libraries and registries of motor vehicles. These forms must be filled out and mailed to the local election department. Also, one may register at a voter registration drive. The only states with online voter registration are Arizona and Washington, though legislation has been introduced in other states.

Some states prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from voting, known as felony disenfranchisement. One may register wherever one has an address, regardless of its permanence- for example, a college student living away from home may register to vote in the college's city, even if that is not a permanent address. In most states, one must register, usually 30 days before a given election, in order to vote in it. Six states, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming, allow for Election Day Registration.

In some states, when registering to vote, one may declare an affiliation with a political party. This declaration of affiliation does not cost any money, and it is not the same as being a dues-paying member of a party; for example, a party cannot prevent anybody from declaring his or her affiliation with them, but it can refuse requests for full membership. Some states, including Michigan and Virginia do not have party affiliation with registration.

In general elections, a voter may choose to vote for all of a particular party's candidates (straight-ticket voting) or to vote for candidates from different parties for different offices (Party X's candidate for President, Party Y's candidate for Senator, Party Z's candidate for Governor). In a general election, one's political party affiliation does not determine which party's candidates one may vote for.

More information on voter registration and voting may be found at League of Women Voters or Declare Yourself.

See also

References

External links

  • Long Distance Voter - voter registration and absentee ballot resources for all 50 states.
  • Register to vote with Rock the Vote's guided online form. (USA)
  • Oregon Bus Project's Building Votes program (a model for peer-to-peer voter registration drives)
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