Why all the hurdles to voting?

Fix Voter Registration Now

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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It's National Register To Vote Day. That's fine, people should register to vote. If you haven't registered, consider this your reminder to do so.

But voter registration in the U.S. is a disgrace. It's simply an unnecessary hurdle to voting. It shouldn't depend on individual action that (in most states) must be taken long in advance of elections, usually when most people aren't paying attention to politics. Voter registration should be, as it is in many democracies, automatic, portable and permanent. The burden should be on the government to make voting easy.

And while I'm at it, the 16 year-old minimum age for voting the Scottish independence referendum was a great idea - and didn't seem to cause any controversy. I'd love to find out whether the young Scots who cast ballots last week will be more regular voters over the course of their lives than those who began voting later.

There are many good reasons that voting in the U.S. is harder. Federalism and separated institutions sharing powers mean there are more elections than in most other places. The long tradition of primary elections, too, is a complication (because there are no party cues to help voters). Then there are American specificities that are at least arguably justified, including ballot measures, nonpartisan offices and judicial elections. But high-hurdle voter registration simply makes voting more difficult, with very little other justification. Automatic, portable, and permanent registration is perfectly possible. It's how things should work.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net