Renew a License and Register to Vote? `Motor Voter' Bills in Congress Would Drop Barriers to Voter Registration and Encourage Higher Turnout

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH record numbers of people cast ballots in last fall's presidential election, more than one-third of Americans who were eligible to vote - some 70 million citizens - were not registered; they couldn't take part in the election. When people are asked why they didn't vote in a particular election, most respond, "because I wasn't registered."

People should not be forced to vote, and the Congress should not try to mandate participation. However, I do believe that our democratic government has an affirmative duty to reduce to an absolute minimum the roadblocks government puts between a citizen and the ballot box. Our country has an unfortunate history of keeping the "wrong" kind of people from voting. Throughout too much of our history, poll taxes, literacy tests, and other hurdles were used to prevent European and Asian immigrants, the rural p oor, and blacks from exercising their constitutional right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated many of the most obvious discriminatory tactics. However, in testimony before the Elections Subcommittee I chair, we found, even in this day, jurisdictions that deprived Americans of their right to vote through overly restrictive registration practices.

It stands to reason that if you believe that all eligible citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote, then there should be no objection to passing a law making it easier to register. The National Voter Registration Act does just that by tearing down most of the remaining bureaucratic barriers that have been erected by the government between the citizen and his or her right to vote.

The "motor voter" bill, as it is nicknamed, would allow eligible citizens to apply to register to vote at the same time they get or renew their driver's licenses. The legislation also includes application for registration by mail and at some government agencies that typically come in contact with people who might not drive, such as the aged, the disabled, or the very poor. Voter lists would be kept up-to-date by making use of the United States Postal Service's national Change of Address Program or by sen ding address verification cards at least once every four years. The bill also has tough provisions to guard against fraud by making it a federal crime if anyone knowingly or willfully applies for registration when not eligible to vote. That is a new fraud protection.

The National Voter Registration Act will offer more than 90 percent of the eligible citizens the opportunity to register through the motor-voter provision. …

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