Many states require voters to register by a particular deadline to monitor voting fraud and manage crowds that can, at times, be chaotic. Voter registration deadlines often ensure an efficient experience at the polls. This election’s stark contrasts underscore the importance of voting. Efforts that disenfranchise voters of color in states such as Texas and North Carolina have taken hold in part thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to dismantle the Voting Rights Act. The youth vote floats around 20 percent, and efforts to mitigate this problem have often been unsuccessful.
All Virginians — including University students — would be better off if the state were to enact Election Day Registration, which would allow qualified residents to register to vote and cast a ballot the same day.
Across the United States, all but 13 states require voters to register before a deadline that typically falls between eight to 30 days before election day. In Virginia, residents must register by Oct. 17. In 2015 the state’s turnout amongst those who registered was about 30 percent — 31st in the country for voter turnout. Simply put, enacting EDR in Virginia would likely increase voter turnout by 3 to 6 percent and provide a more convenient means for students to register. In states with EDR, the voters who most consistently utilize this system tend to be young people and those who move frequently.
In light of recent elections, EDR would be a powerful force in changing the tide of an election. The 2015 election season demonstrated that states with EDR had the highest voter participation rates, averaging 48 percent, a 12-point difference from turnout in states without it. Many polling experts also believe EDR is the only administrative change strongly correlating with increased voter turnout.
With the Oct. 17 registration deadline in Virginia rapidly approaching and election day — Nov. 6 — not far behind, the change is not likely to come during the 2016 election season. In lieu of any changes this cycle, the University can make minimal but effective changes to increase voter participation among its students. The administration could offer registration forms in highly trafficked areas such as Newcomb Hall and Alderman Library, along with links to registration websites on the SIS or Collab homepages. Other universities are also making an active effort to help students register, such as Harvard University, where students were encouraged to register this year upon completing their usual online check-in.
Potential burdens that could emerge from the change would be minimal: costs to make the switch are low and improvements in technology would absorb additional headaches state election officials. Considering Virginia’s less-than-perfect history concerning voting laws — with Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently attempting to expand ballot access in light of existing discriminatory restrictions — the implementation of EDR would further bolster statewide civic engagement.