Thanks to Missouri's antiquated election law, voters must register prior to the fourth Wednesday before an election, meaning it's already way too late for voters to register for the Nov. 6 election. Increasing voter turnout should be a goal of any government interested in advancing democracy. The greater the rate of participation, the louder the people's voice resonates.
When people are deterred from voting because it is too difficult or inconvenient, they are unnecessarily excluded from the decision-making process. That's how you slowly destroy a democracy. The best way to revive and invigorate participation is to introduce same-day voter registration, a practice already allowed in 15 states plus the District of Columbia.
Before the 19th century, polling officials used to be able to recognize eligible voters by sight. Growing populations rendered this system unworkable, and voter registration was devised as a tool to determine, before the election began, who was eligible. Assessors went door-to-door, adding all property-owning white males to the voting rolls.
Without voter registration, polling officials had no way to determine who was a property owner within their jurisdiction without visiting every home for verification. Missouri's law seems to be little more than a holdover from that bygone age.
Assessors obviously no longer go door-to-door to register voters. Instead, voters come to election officials to present proof of eligibility. The expansion of voting rights to non-property owners has eliminated the need for a home visit, which was the main reason for pre-election registration. In the modern era, all of the same items that voters use to prove their eligibility a month before the election could be used on Election Day itself.
Multiple research studies have shown that allowing voters to register on Election Day boosts turnout by an average of more than 10 percent. Moreover, many studies have found the effect to be most pronounced for middle- and low-income voters. Election Day registration enhances the concept of equal representation and takes a lot of the hassle and uncertainty out of democratic participation.
Some opponents of Election Day registration cite concerns about voter fraud, but research data suggest otherwise. Others have grumbled at the prospective cost, which has turned out to be minimal – and more than acceptable when balancing it with the benefits of greater citizen participation.
The trend, however, seems to be heading in the opposite direction as politicians press new voter ID laws, while the practice of gerrymandering reduces the possibility of unseating incumbents. Those issues should get voters energized. Same-day voter registration certainly could affect election outcomes in ways that would make Republicans especially uncomfortable, given their support for voter ID laws.
It's too late to make this happen for today’s election, but Missouri needs to update its election system. Americans should be proud of their democracy and do what's reasonably possible to encourage greater participation.
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch