How We Could Register 50 Million People to Vote – Today

June 26, 2016

Ben & Jerry's | voting boothes across America

If there were some way to get your hands on 50 million pints of your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor, would you do it? Well, OK, no matter how much you love ice cream, 50 million might be more than you and your friends could handle—but the point is, when you have a chance to do something that could make a huge positive impact, you should try it, right?

We think that registering 50 million more voters all across this country qualifies as both huge and positive. Think about that number. As of the November 2014 election, there were 142,166,000 registered voters in this country. Now imagine adding 50 million more—basically a 35% increase. Yeah, that’s a huge deal.

And the good news is that we know exactly how to make it happen: automatic voter registration (AVR).

What Is AVR?

There’s a lot to love about AVR, but its simplicity has got to be at the top of the list. In contrast to our current system, which puts the burden of registering to vote on citizens, AVR ensures that every eligible citizen is automatically registered.

In the US today, you’re not registered unless you make the effort to opt in. Under AVR, you're automatically registered unless you opt out.

More Convenient and Seamless for Us, the Voters

Not only that, but with AVR, government agencies (e.g., the department of motor vehicles, your Social Security office, a state university) are the ones responsible for providing election officials with all of your voter-registration information (including updates when you move, etc.). That kind of streamlined process is more convenient for voters, of course, but also cuts down on clerical errors and reduces the likelihood of fraud.

Democracy Ain’t Pretty

American Democracy Fun Fact: in real life, our election laws and practices are a mess. Rather than following a set of national guidelines, each state gets to, essentially, make up its own rules. But more hilarity ensues every Election Day because even the many jurisdictions within each state have a say in how people vote. This absurd level of inconsistency is just one reason why voter confusion remains high and voter turnout low compared to most other countries.

And it doesn’t help that lots of states are passing laws designed to make it even more difficult to vote, thanks in large part to how the Supreme Court took a sledgehammer to the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In short, it’s easy to get frustrated.

But our wacky system does have a bright side: if they’re up for it, states can actually pass good laws too!

Only 45 More to Go!

Five states—Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut—have passed AVR legislation.

  • Oregon, the first state to do so, said that it has added 51,588 voters to the rolls since January, and that more than half have come through the automatic registering process.
  • California thinks that 6.6 million of its citizens are eligible but not registered, something that AVR should remedy.
  • When signing the AVR bill, Vermont’s governor said, "While states across the country are making it harder for voters to get to the polls, Vermont is making it easier by moving forward with commonsense policies that remove unnecessary barriers and increase participation in our democracy." Go, Vermont! 
  • Nationwide, as we mentioned, experts estimate that as many as 50 million potential voters could be registered by AVR. Does that mean that every registered voter will vote? Of course not—but AVR could nonetheless significantly increase turnout, which in a democracy badly in need of repair, can only be a good thing.

What’s the Holdup?

Let’s take a look at who supports AVR.

  • President Obama has said that AVR “will protect the fundamental right of everybody. Democrats, Republicans, independents, seniors, folks with disabilities, the men and women of our military—it would make sure that it was easier for them to vote and have their vote counted.”
  • Hillary Clinton is also on board, per a 2015 speech where she denounced voter ID laws.
  • Bernie Sanders has cosponsored legislation that would require each state to set up AVR.
  • 86 members of the House of Representatives have signed on to similar AVR legislation.
  • AVR bills are being considered in 28 states plus Washington, DC.

Since AVR would make registration super easy for so many Americans—including African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, and the poor, who find themselves freshly disenfranchised in many states due to harsh voter ID laws—it’s hard to think of how or why anybody might object… Unless you’re the type of politician who, secretly or not, thinks that the biggest problem with our democracy isn’t all the unregulated money or low voter turnout, but the very fact that people want to vote at all

Power to the People

Well, we believe that democracy only works when it works for everyone, when all of our citizens get to have their voices heard. 50 million newly registered voters: think of what a beautiful thing it would be to hear what they have to say.

When you’re shut out of the political process, your voice can’t be heard. Which leaves the decisions all too often to the ultra-wealthy and well-connected. AVR treats us all as equals: one person, one vote—automatically. That’s a democracy we can believe in.