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Topics / Voter Participation

Andrew Geraghty: Voter Registration — A Texas (X2) Sized Problem

51 million eligible Americans aren't registered to vote

51 million eligible Americans don’t vote. It’s not because they don’t like the candidates and it’s not because they don’t have time to get to the polls. Actually, it’s possible that they don’t like the candidates and they don’t have enough time to get to the polls, but the reason they aren’t voting is that they aren’t even registered. 51 million; that’s almost double the population of Texas and nearly 24 percent of the country’s voting-eligible population.  There are plenty of problems with voting in the U.S., like restrictive state laws that limit early voting and require residents to show photo identification, but before Americans can confront those obstacles, they must take the first step and register to vote. The good news is that once they’ve registered the voting rate for Americans increases dramatically—in presidential races, anyway. Here are a few ways that some states are bringing registration into the 21st century and making the process a little easier.

  1. Online registration: We bank, file our tax returns, and check our medical records online—and now in 20 states, we can register to vote online. When California introduced online registration just five weeks before the 2012 elections, more than half of new registrants used it.  
  2. Pre-registration: Young people are among the least likely to vote. But like their older counterparts, once they register, they’re much more likely to turn-out. In 20 states, teenagers are being targeted at places where they are already likely to show up—like motor vehicle departments and high schools—to pre-register before they even turn 18.
  3. Same-day registration: In the weeks leading up to elections—especially presidential elections—the news media is flooded with campaign coverage. The free advertising reminds Americans to vote—but in most states it’s too late if you aren’t already registered (in many states registration deadlines are 30 days before Election Day). Through same-day registration, ten states and the District of Columbia allow new voters—and those who have been mistakenly purged from the voting rolls—to register and vote on Election Day. 

Carnegie Corporation has long supported work in protecting and strengthening voting rights in the United States and continues to make grants to improve voter registration, voter education, and turnout. Read more about our work and how our partners are getting people registered to vote.