09/21/2009 - The 2008 election had plenty of historic story lines, from the election of an African-American president to the consolidation of Democratic power in Congress. But last year’s campaign was also noteworthy for a significant procedural reason: the growing recognition that the nation’s system of voter registration is dangerously outmoded.
The committee is also touting more direct benefits for otherwise skeptical potential stakeholders in a new registration system. Instituting a new automated, computerized registration system would create cost savings for cash-strapped states. Doug Chapin, director of election initiatives for the Pew Center on the States and a member of the new committee, points to the experience of Maricopa County, Ariz. The county, which encompasses the city of Phoenix and its populous suburbs, has found that processing an online voter registration and matching it against its DMV database costs an average of 3 cents versus at least 83 cents to process a paper registration form.
Chapin also stresses the need to obtain early buy-in from local voting officials for the overhaul — something the committee is trying to do by granting three of its original 13 seats to state and local officials. Chapin says the strategy here is to dispel the widespread fear among local voting overseers that “they will be asked to do something that isn’t doable” in a federal overhaul; he maintains that the objective of a new law should be “to make the desirable doable.”
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