Thursday, November 20

WHY OTHER COUNTRIES DO BETTER AT VOTER REGISTRATION

Eve, Fair Vote - 89% of the voting age population is registered to vote in Canada, and 97% in Sweden. In contrast, in the USA, one third of voters of voters are left behind - even in such a critical and vibrant election as this one. Indeed, the US system of voter registration (self-initiated), which puts the burden of registration exclusively on the voter, not on the government, very often acts as a barrier to political participation and turnout. Because registration is voluntary, this system requires citizen initiative and thus tends to leave out many who would otherwise be eligible to vote. In fact, many eligible voters may be unable to register (women with small children, those without easy access to transportation, people who have a job with busy schedule, students…) or simply forget to do it…Thus the voter registration system may partly explain why the United States ranks 140 out of 163 countries based on turnout of the voting age population since 1990.

Another major drawback of this system is the large role left to civic-minded organizations, partisans and religious organizations, that actually increases the risk of election fraud. In addition, our voter registration system is to a large extent responsible of the registration rush phenomenon not giving administrators enough time to prepare appropriately for the actual number of voters coming to the polls, which often results in long lines.

In contrast, the Canadian and Swedish systems (as well as most democracies, notably Japan, New Zealand, Italy, Israel, and even Iraq) are state-initiated ones: in these countries, the governments consider that they have the responsibility to protect their citizens' constitutional right to vote by ensuring that they are duly registered to vote. Voting is thus protected as a fundamental citizenship right.

State-initiated voter registration systems take many forms. The Italian style links to records of residence maintained by police or local governments, applications for government services and uses door-to-door registration campaigns. Canadian and the Swedish election authorities work with other government bodies to create list updates. When citizens change their place of residence, they often inform government agencies such as the post office, the tax bureau, the health insurance system. Data-sharing allows the election authority to receive regular updates of changes to files. This makes it possible to update the electoral register without any direct contact between the voter and the election authority.

Lists can be designed to incorporate data from sources such as vital statistics offices, the obituary page in newspapers, funeral homes, courts and health authorities (for information on mental incompetence).

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