COMMENTARY: Did you want to vote in last year’s election, but hadn’t registered in time? It was the plight of many voters here and in other states where the registration deadline is about a month out from the actual election day.
Twenty-eight states (including New Mexico) require voters to register 25 days or more before Election Day, well before debates are held, advertisements are run, and most voters focus on the election.
You might think that procrastinators get what they deserve, but the requirement disenfranchises thousands.
Even Ivanka and Eric Trump didn’t meet the state’s early deadline and could not voter for their father in the New York primary.
With today’s technology, there’s no reason for these kinds of barriers to qualified voters. County clerks now have the technology to process and register voters in real time. State-run elections are no longer a paper-and-pencil affair. We have the capacity to dramatically improve voter turnout with a modernized registration process that would enfranchise as voters who currently cannot vote because they missed an arbitrary deadline.
Why not do it? Increasing voter turnout is inherently a good thing for our system, increasing civic engagement, decreasing cynicism and legitimizing the peoples’ choices.
And if this year’s election taught us nothing else, it demonstrated that every vote counted.
Currently, there’s a bill in the NM legislature (Senate Bill 224) sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn that will allow registration up to three days before the election, thus enfranchising many voters, especially elderly and disabled people who find it difficult to make an extra trip to the County Clerk’s office.
Presently, citizens who want to vote must register 28 days before Election Day. The way the bill is structured a voter could register and vote early on the same day at an early voting site. It’s a suggestion made by the Senate Rules Committee and it’s a good one.
Ten states plus the District of Columbia currently offer, or have enacted laws that provide for, Election Day registration, allowing eligible citizens to register or update their records on Election Day. Two other states, as well as D.C., offer what Sen. Steinborn’s bill is proposing in which qualified voters are allowed to register and vote through the Saturday before the election.
New Mexico has already taken a giant step forward by allowing online voter registration, and now it’s time to take the next step. In 2006, in states offering registration right up to Election Day, turnout was 11 percent higher than in states without extended voter registration.
In the name of democracy, New Mexico should open the doors of the voting booth to allow everyone who wants to exercise their sacred right — and duty — to do so.
Harrison is executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. It works to create open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and to empower all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process.