11/16/2012 05:07 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2013

A Vote for Real Electoral Reforms


Election Day is over. Television commercials have reverted back to pitching products instead of candidates and issues. For most of America, the election has faded and it will be nearly another two years before they face another election cycle of campaign commercials and candidates knocking on their doors. For those that work to ensure fair elections that allow all voters to participate, this cycle leaves serious issues with election administration unaddressed and unfixed.

Rare and outrageous election issues often catch the media's attention. One example from Election Day that drew national attention was a video of a faulty electronic voting machine. This video received millions of views on YouTube and raised awareness about an important issue in the integrity of our voting machinery. However, this instance was the exception and not the rule.

Across the country phones rang off the hook in state and local election officials' offices, at partisan phone banks, and at non-partisan voter hotlines like 1-866-OUR-VOTE with Americans looking for basic information about the voting process. Callers were unaware of where they were supposed to vote, what identification they may need, and worst of all -- that they failed to register before an arbitrary deadline that would result in their disenfranchisement.

Millions of Americans are unable to participate in our political process every year simply because they do not know about needing to register before Election Day or re-register after moving residences in most states. This is particularly true for first-time voters.

A survey following the 2010 election found that approximately two-thirds of college students aged 18-24, who did not vote, cited reasons that could be easily remedied with basic information about the process. In response to this, the Fair Elections Legal Network launched the Campus Vote Project to work with school administrators to make basic information about voter registration and voting more accessible for college students.

The problem goes beyond just young people. There were many stories about long voting lines during the 2012 election. One positive takeaway is that these lines can partially be attributed to the number of individuals participating in the voting process. However, the lines were certainly longer because of the number of people who were tripped up by many of the common barriers to the voting process. Individuals who arrive at the polls to find out they are not listed in the poll book, that need to fill out a change of address form or provisional ballot add to the wait time for all voters.

Professor Michael McDonald of George Mason University determined that turnout could be increased by 2.4 percent by simply allowing those who had previously registered to vote anywhere in a state to update their address and vote on Election Day. Simple solutions like this can help more people participate in our democratic process.

Too often on Election Day individuals are told that they cannot vote -- not because they are not qualified, but because they were unaware of registration rules or deadlines. We should strive for an election system that can offer more solutions for would be voters. This does not have to be hard. In fact, for the most part this can be done by simplifying the process.

While groundbreaking solutions should be welcomed, there are already a number of examples from around the country that have successfully improved the Election Day experience for voters in some states. Such reforms include: (1) adopting some form of Election Day Registration in more states; (2) if not Election Day Registration, then allowing Election Day address updates statewide for those who were previously registered; (3) expand online registration to more states; (4) allowing early voting in every state. Such solutions clearly make a difference -- Election Day registration alone has been shown to increase turnout by approximately five to seven points in states where such a system is in place. In 2008, the five states with the highest turnout percentage were all Election Day registration states. Presumably, when all the votes are tallied, the 2012 election will show similar results.

We need to strive to implement solutions that ensure all eligible citizens have an option of casting a ballot that will count, so that fewer people are turned away without voting. Voters should not have to wait in unconscionably long lines, nor should any American over age 18, be told they cannot vote if they are eligible.

Our electoral system is set up for a time that has passed us by. The reforms listed above are a few examples of simple steps where embracing technological advances to simplify the process and make it more convenient for citizens can and should be implemented. Voting reforms like these should not be stuck in the long lines of partisan bickering, but should be passed to ensure that every eligible citizen who wants to participate in the process may cast a ballot on the next Election Day.