There’s nothing that makes us happier than seeing our fellow Americans vote. (Well, ice cream makes us pretty happy, too, but we have a special place in our hearts for the democratic process.) In fact, we wish we could offer towering ice cream sundaes as a delicious reward to every single citizen who shows up to the polls or mails in their absentee ballot—but, tragically, we can’t.
So, since we can’t entice citizens to vote with ice cream, let’s check out what states themselves can do to encourage voting. It’s no secret that barriers like voter ID laws, long lines, shortened early voting periods, and confusing registration processes keep lots of Americans from voting—particularly Black and Brown people, the elderly, students, and low-income voters. And this year coronavirus is a huge concern too.
We think that every eligible person should be able to cast their vote safely and without a hassle. This is a democracy, right? Why make it hard to vote? Here are 9 no-brainer ways that states could make voting easy for everyone.
1. Put Registration Online
You can do all kinds of neat stuff on the internet: Order pizza, pay your taxes, fill out the Census, find a store that carries your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor, and even wish your grandma a happy birthday. And, in 40 states (up from 32 just four years ago!) plus Washington, DC, you can register to vote. In the other 10 states, registering can be a paperwork-paved hassle. Adopting online registration not only reduces face-to-face contact, while keeping up with our increasingly technology-based society, it also boosts voter turnout rates and makes voting easier for everyone.
2. Even Better, Do the Registering for Us
Oregon was the first state to automate voter registration as a part of DMV activities in 2015. Since then, 16 more states, plus DC, have stepped up to make sure that when citizens 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. And guess what? Those states have added a lot of voters to their rolls. Making it easy makes a real difference. 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 sets of 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 some of 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 malfunctioning voting machines, reduced polling places, not enough staff, and rampant delays, wait times can skyrocket, with Black and Latinx voters waiting 45%-46% longer than white voters. This was never OK, but with the pandemic still not under control, it’s downright dangerous to force people to stand together for a long time. Long waits are avoidable if states plan better and allocate the necessary resources to the voting process. But with November right around the corner, states are running out of time to get it right.
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 or concerns—there are a million and one reasons a person may not be able to get to the polls on that particular Tuesday in November. In 40 states, plus DC, voters can cast a ballot before Election Day, anywhere from 45 to seven 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
Thirty-four states do not require an excuse from citizens who want to vote by absentee ballot or mail. In fact five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington) conduct elections entirely by mail, so voters there automatically receive ballots (no need to request one). But that leaves 16 states where, even in the middle of a pandemic, voters 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 16 states frankly don’t care. Offering no-questions-asked absentee voting is essential to giving everyone the opportunity to vote—and vote safely. No one should have to risk their health to participate in an election.
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 civic duty. But what if Election Day were a national holiday? This isn’t a measure that states could pull off on their own (although Virginia did just declare Election Day a state holiday), 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. (Wondering if you’re registered? Find out!) The Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended back in 2014 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 discriminatory voting legislation, like voter ID laws, which are specifically designed to make it harder for Black people, low-income people, the elderly, and young people to exercise their right to vote. We should be working to make voting easier and more inclusive, not excluding people from the democratic process. Our democracy only works when everyone’s voice is heard.