Across the globe, automatic voter registration is the norm. The widely accepted practice of automatically registering citizens or adding them to voter rolls as soon as they become of voting age it is still far from the reality in the United States, but momentum is building up.
Recently, many states have been advancing the discussion by pushing for automatic voter registration on a state-by-state basis. Back in March, Oregon generated buzz by passing a law that automatically registers and mails ballots to any citizen with a valid driver’s license, giving them the ability to vote. The law aims to encourage civic engagement and universal voting. As Oregon governor Kate Brown said: “Your voice is your vote and every single voice matters.”
Moving forward, many state legislators have been in talks about implementing automatic voter registration, as well trying to enact similar policies that would enable citizens to be automatically registered as soon as they turn 18.
Additionally, several days after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s highly cited speech on the topic back in June, David Cicilline (D-R.I.), along with 45 fellow Democratic co-sponsors including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), and civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), proposed The Automatic Voter Registration Act—a bill would automatically register every American to vote.
It is clear that the narrative on automatic voting rights is finally moving forward. But the question now remains: is it moving fast enough?
Automatic voter registration would not only help America leverage its full voter potential and support a more inclusive system, but it would also have a massive impact on young people and their access to the ballot. With voter registration amongst young people at a historic low—less than 50 percent—automatically registering students as soon as the turn 18 would not only encourage participation, but it would avoid many of the possible barriers young people face trying to register and eliminate the all too common excuses for not voting such as “I tried too late,” “I couldn’t get the paperwork” or “I forgot.”
As Heather K. Gerken, Professor at Yale Law School wrote: “What makes this all so frustrating is that there is an obvious solution. We could do what other democracies do—register everyone automatically. State officials have plenty of information on us. They know who we are and where we live. Using data-matching technology widely deployed in the private sector, creating a universal voter-registration list would be a relatively simple matter.”
The problem is clear and as Professor Gerken wrote, so is the solution. Enrolling young people to vote should be a shared responsibility of the government and the citizen—not just the citizen. It is time for America to execute its democracy and make sure 100 percent of its citizens—both young and old—have universal access to the voting booth.