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Why America needs automatic voter registration

A simple fix to get more Americans to vote.

Turnout for the 2018 elections seems like it might break midterm records. That’s great news, but compared to other advanced democracies, America’s voter turnout is still appallingly low.

We trail most developed countries when it comes to the number of Americans of voting age who actually vote. But when it comes to the turnout of registered voters, we’re one of the best in the world.

That’s because the US makes it difficult for people to register to vote.

States with same-day registration, where voters can register on Election Day, all saw higher turnout in 2016 than the national average. More than 10 percent of voters in states like Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Idaho registered on Election Day.

They’re not lazy or uninformed — a quarter of unregistered Americans say they intend to vote but just haven’t gotten around to it. Others say it’s inconvenient or they just don’t know how.

Oregon has solved this problem. In 2015, the state implemented automatic voter registration. Instead of requiring citizens to register to vote, any qualified citizen who has an interaction with the DMV, like registering a vehicle or getting an ID, is automatically added to the voter roll.

In total, 272,000 people were registered this way — and more than a third of them voted in 2016. Turnout in Oregon increased 4 percent from 2012 to 2016.

Sweden and Denmark, where voter turnout exceeds 80 percent, have automatic registration. So do a host of other developed democracies with high turnout rates.

If America did the same, our turnout would increase — and it would make elections cheaper and more secure. Instead of having to re-register when you move to a new state, your registration would move with you. This would reduce duplicate registrations and help clean up voter rolls. And because there are no paper registrations to process, it would save states millions of dollars.

On Tuesday, Nevada passed a ballot measure to implement automatic voter registration. The state joined 13 other states and Washington, DC, that will have automatic registration ready for the 2020 election.

To learn more about the benefits of automatic voter registration, check out the video above. And for more Vox videos, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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