Sunday, February 4, 2007

Same-day voter registration -- Part II

As promised, Montana Headlines is returning to the issue of same-day voter registration.

Ed Kemmick has already commented on the Gazette opinion page debate between Democratic former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams and Republican Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson.

While Montana Headlines leans the other direction from Kemmick (i.e. against same-day registration,) it is interesting that the same figure struck us -- Brad Johnson's estimated 2600 genuinely new voters registered on election day.

If the figure is correct, and there is no reason to suppose it is not, then it demonstrates that even in a very close election like this past Senate race, same-day registration didn't make the difference in who won. The significance of this is that it should make both Democrats and Republicans look at the issue with a little less concern about partisan advantage and a little more concern for the big picture.

When one Googles "Same-day voter registration," the top link is from Demos, an organization that bills itself as non-partisan, and which strongly supports same-day registration. While the earnestness of the organization cannot be questioned, some of the arguments can be. We will address their four talking points.

First, the website states that many states require registration 20 - 30 days prior to the election, supposedly well before people are interested in the election. But why is same-day registration needed in order to correct that, if it is a problem?

A proposal such as Johnson is supporting -- moving the registration deadline to the Friday before the election -- would accomplish the same goal, while allowing election officials the opportunity to concentrate on the election itself on Tuesday. It still is cutting things close, but it does give some time to work out eligibility problems.

The real, growing, concern is that elections be viewed as legitimate by both sides. Say what one will about the past Burns-Tester campaign, no-one on the Republican side has claimed that the election was stolen, and no-one on the Democrat side is claiming that all the votes weren't counted. Presumably the Democrats would also have taken a 3000 vote loss in Montana without accusations of a stolen election.

But had the margin been, say, 100 votes, there would have been a lot of legitimate questions about how well election workers were able to handle the dual tasks of registering voters and running the actual voting.

If registration is finished the week before, all but the worst procrastinators will be able to vote, and eligibility issues can be scrutinized under conditions of relative leisure rather than while voter lines are backing up.

Which brings us to a subject that brings back memories of the 2000 Florida fracas with its “hanging chads” and "butterfly ballots." Were we really hearing the Democrats claim that their voters were so much less able to read and follow directions than were Republicans that it should be assumed that spoiled ballots were disproportionately meant to have been cast for Al Gore?

Likewise, looking at the sharp partisan divide on same-day registration, it seems incontrovertible that both parties must agree on one thing: Democrats are bigger procrastinators, aren’t interested in the campaign until someone comes and rouses them out on election day, and are more unaware of how to register or whether they are registered.

Why Republicans would think that is obvious. Why Democrats would believe that – or want to advertise it to the world if they do, is difficult to understand. Call us Republicans prideful, but we'd probably just rather lose the election.

Point two tomorrow.

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