There’s nothing that makes us happier than seeing our fellow Americans get out to vote on election day. (Well, ice cream makes us pretty happy, too, but we have a special place in our hearts for the democratic process.) And as much as we wish we could offer towering ice cream sundaes to every citizen who comes out to cast their vote, we, unfortunately, can’t do that. Curses!
So, since we can’t entice citizens to get out and vote with ice cream, let’s check out what states themselves can do to encourage voting. It’s no secret that some populations face incredibly unfair barriers to voting. Voter ID laws, long lines, shortened early voting periods, and confusing registration processes keep lots of people from voting – particularly the elderly, students, African Americans and low-income voters.
We think that’s not cool, and every eligible person should be able to cast their vote without a hassle. Here are 9 easy-as-pie, no-brainer ways that states could make voting easy and hassle-free for everyone:
1. Put Registration Online.
You can do all kinds of neat stuff on the internet: order pizza, pay your taxes, find a store that carries your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor, and even wish your grandma a happy birthday. And, in 32 states plus Washington, DC, you can register to vote. In the other 18 states, registering can be a paperwork-paved hassle. Adopting online registration not only keeps up with our technology-based society, but boosts voter turnout rates and makes voting easier for everyone.
2. Even Better, Do the Registering for Us.
California recently became the second state to automate voter registration as a part of DMV activities, after Oregon led the way in 2015. So when Californians and Oregonians stop into the DMV to renew their license or change their address, they will automatically be registered to vote. Badda bing, badda boom, no extra paperwork necessary. More states should follow suit.
3. Make Registration Portable.
The average American will move to a new address 11.7 times in their lifetime. And every time you move, you have to re-register to vote. So that’s 11.7 City Halls to trek to, 11.7 forms to fill out, and 11.7 headaches. But, states could adopt portable registration, which would keep voters’ registrations active when they move within the same state. This would be particularly beneficial to the groups that move the most often: people of color, lower-income people and young people. Interestingly, those are the same folks who are most vulnerable to voter suppression tactics. Sounds like a win all around.
4. Cut Wait Times.
No one should have to wait in long lines to vote. But with broken voting machines, not enough staff, and rampant delays, wait times can skyrocket, with black and Hispanic voters waiting almost twice as long as white voters. And as much fun as waiting in line is, it’s way more fun to get in, get out and get back to your day. Long wait times are avoidable if states plan better and allocate the right resources to the voting process. Come on, guys, our feet hurt!
5. Expand Early Voting.
Election day is, well, just that, a day. One day when we’re all supposed to be available to head to the polls. But chances are, not everyone in America is going to be able to vote that day. Work, family commitments, appointments, medical restrictions – there a million and one reasons a person may not be able to get to the polls on that particular Tuesday in November. In 37 states plus Washington, DC, voters can cast a ballot before Election Day, anywhere from 45 to 7 days early, depending on the state. If every state offered early voting, a whole lot more folks would be able to cast their votes.
6. Stop Being So Nosy About Absentee Voting.
In 13 states, not only is early voting not available, but voters even have to have a good reason to request an absentee ballot. That means that unless they have a physical disability or will be away from their home precinct during that day, they will be denied an absentee ballot. Have to work during voting hours? No vote for you. No time between family commitments? These 13 states frankly don’t care. Restrictions like these tend to impact working-class and African American voters the most, populations whose votes are sorely needed. Offering no-questions-asked absentee voting is essential to giving everyone the opportunity to vote.
7. Make Election Day a Federal Holiday.
The most common reason that people don’t vote is that it’s not convenient. It makes sense – Election Day is a Tuesday, which is a work day for most of us. Between work, picking the kids up at school and running errands, there isn’t always a lot of time left for. But what if Election Day was a national holiday? This isn’t a measure that states could pull off on their own (see that ‘Federal’ up there?), but it is one that the national government could. With the day off work, voters would have plenty of time to get to the polls – and stop for ice cream on the way home.
8. Walk the Line.
Remember up in #4 where we said that voting lines can get pretty out of hand? Sometimes the reason lines are so long is because people get up to the front of the line, only to realize that they don’t have the correct ID, they’re in the wrong polling station or they’ve forgotten to register. It happens! The Presidential Commission on Election Administration has recommended that polling volunteers walk the voting line, verifying that everyone is in the right place and has registered properly. That would save voters a heck of a lot of time, and would cut down on wait times. We even do a similar thing on Free Cone Day, sending a list of flavors through the line so that everyone is prepared when they reach the counter.
9. Stop Passing Restrictive Voting Laws!
All of these things that states can do to make voting easier are moot if they continue to pass restrictive, unfair and retrogressive voting laws. Laws such as Voter ID laws, which are specifically designed to make it harder for African Americans, low-income people, the elderly and young people to exercise their right to vote. That’s not fair, and not what our country was founded on. We should be working to make voting easier and more inclusive, not excluding voices from the democratic process. Voting is a right, not a privilege.