VPIRG Advocate Testifies in Support of Election Day Registration

VPIRG Energy and Democracy Advocate Julia Michel (pictured, left at at a 2014 young voter turnout event) testified before the House Government Operations committee today in support of S.29 – a bill that would allow Election Day voter registration in Vermont.

(Read her full testimony here.)

“Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have faced legal and procedural barriers to the exercise of our fundamental democratic rights,” Michel told the committee. “These barriers have for the most part, been eliminated over time. With this bill, you all have an opportunity to remove one more obstacle in order to make it just a little bit easier for eligible Vermonters to exercise their right to vote.”

The Senate already passed S.29 by a 20 to 7 vote earlier this month. The bill must now be passed by the Government Operations committee before heading to the House floor.

Under current law, any Vermonter who wants to vote on Election Day must be registered by the previous Wednesday. If passed, S.29 would allow residents to register to vote on the day of an election. Michel testified that experts predict this can increase voter turnout by three to six percentage points. She also illustrated the types of potential voters this legislation would allow to participate.

“We believe that there is no need to penalize the first-time voter who forgets to pre-register, the busy mother who doesn’t discover a problem with her registration problems prior to Election Day, or the grandfather who forgets to update his address after moving into a retirement facility,” Michel explained.

Election day registration is already allowed in 10 states, including Vermont neighbors Maine and New Hampshire, with two more states planning to implement it before the next election.

Opponents of the bill have questioned whether it would lead to voter fraud, but Michel pointed out that all credible research and the experience of these states show that concern to be unfounded.

Michel cited “a landmark study involving review of 4,000 news reports in six EDR states over three federal election cycles (1999-2005) found only 10 discrete incidents of voter fraud or alleged voter fraud that appeared to have some merit.”

She also quoted former Secretaries of State Ben Ysursa of Idaho (a Republican) and Matthew Dunlap of Maine (a Democrat), who described voter fraud as “…exceedingly rare or nonexistent in states that offer Election Day registration. Citizens of Maine, for instance, have benefited from same-day registration since the early 1970s and no case of voter fraud has ever been attributed to the policy.”

Ultimately, Michel said, Election Day registration is about increasing participation in democracy and ensuring that Vermonters can exercise their right to vote.

“Election Day Registration is a proven and popular program that has a track record of success around the country,” she said. “VPIRG supports S.29, and urge this Committee to give its approval to this important elections reform.”