Texas could become the latest state to enact same day voter registration. A bill filed by state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-[District], would require two voter registrars to be present at each polling place on Election Day. The registrars would be able to register new voters, allowing them to cast a provisional ballot that day. In the next ten days, provisional votes would be verified and counted.
The current voter registration process in Texas requires an eligible voter to submit their voter registration application at least 30 days in advance of election day. In 2020, Oct. 5 was the registration deadline to vote in the Nov. 3 election. Despite this time for processing, some voters who submitted their registration applications before the deadline found that it had not been processed when they showed up to vote. University of Texas student Sarah Campbell encountered this problem.
Campbell and her boyfriend moved to Texas in the fall, and she mailed both of their Texas voter registration applications in the same envelope — days before the Oct. 5 deadline. Yet, when the two of them arrived at the polling place together during early voting, the election system used by poll workers was only able to find an active registration for her boyfriend, not for Campbell.
“The poll workers gave me a provisional ballot,” Campbell said, and they told her to call the County Clerk’s office in a few days to find out if they processed her registration and if her vote counted. She followed up with the County Clerk’s office but did not get any answers about the status of her vote.
“I still don’t even know if my vote ever counted,” Campbell said. She added that she received her voter registration card in the mail in early December, weeks after the calls to the County Clerk. “Somebody processed it eventually,” Campbell said.
If Texas had allowed same day voter registration in 2020, not only could Campbell’s experience been simplified, but it could have allowed one million additional votes to be cast. Same day voter registration makes voting more accessible by allowing individuals to register and vote at the same time — just like you are able to apply for a library card and check out a book in one trip. Research suggests that these policies increase voter turnout by 5 to 7 percent, and in Texas, a 6 percent increase in turnout would represent over one million additional votes.
In the 2020 presidential election, 20 states and the District of Columbia had active same day voter registration policies. Additionally, New Mexico had passed legislation but not yet implemented the policy. These states contributed to the 2020 election having the highest voter turnout rate since 1900; 9 of the 10 states with the highest voter turnout rates allow same day voter registration. On average, the states holding same day voter registration policies had a turnout rate of about 71 percent, while states without them had an average turnout rate of 65.5 percent.
Many states made changes to same day voter registration policies since the 2016 presidential election. Four states – Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and Washington – implemented new same day voter registration policies between 2016 and 2020. Nationally, state voter turnout rates increased by an average of 7 percent between 2016 and 2020, but the four states with new same day registration policies increased their voter turnout by by 10.1 percent on average.
Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and Washington each increased voter turnout rates from 2016 by 9.2%, 8%, 12.4%, and 11%, respectively. Data sourced from United States Elections Project http://www.electproject.org and The National Conference of State Legislatures https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/same-day-registration.aspx
All states currently offering same day voter registration require an individual to provide proof of residency and identification in order for their ballot to be counted; however, the accepted forms of residency and identification differ from state to state. Some states also allow an individual to cast a provisional ballot if they cannot provide identification, but the ballot is not counted unless they later provide proper identification. Other measures for ensuring election security, like requiring signing an oath or affidavit or requiring in-person voting at a specific location, are attached to same day registration policies in some states.
At the federal level, the comprehensive election reform package, the For the People Act (H.R. 1), introduced and passed in 2019, includes a provision that would require all states to offer same day voter registration for federal elections.
The Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of more than 170 organizations working for democracy reforms recently called on Congress to prioritize the passage of the For the People Act in 2021. The bill also includes provisions that would require independent redistricting commissions, modernize election systems and increase election security against foreign influence, and strengthen campaign finance transparency.
In a state with consistently below average voter turnout and a history of voter suppression, same day voter registration, with the potential to turn out one million additional voters, could play an important role in the future of healthy civic engagement in Texas.