Bureaucracy in action.

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Voting Is All About Registration

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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Yes, easier voter registration increases voting.

That’s the finding from new research reported today by political scientist Alex Street at the Monkey Cage. Using Google searches for information about registering to vote, Street and his colleagues were able to estimate that about 3 million to 4 million more people would have voted in 2012 if all states had instituted election-day registration.

Of course, the best reform -- adopted by Oregon recently and now under consideration in California -- is to make voter registration automatic.

As Seth Masket detailed recently, restrictive voter registration as a method to reduce voter participation has a long history in the U.S. Indeed, no good reason exists for making registration difficult for citizens other than to reduce their participation.

What the new research confirms is that the people who are being excluded want to be involved. They just get engaged too late in the process to do so. They are less informed about the rules of voting than their neighbors are -- the ones, that is, who make sure to fill out the paperwork.

I can hear some of you asking: Shouldn’t those who go to the trouble to understand the rules of voting have a louder voice?

Well, no. When we go down the road of preferring rule by the better informed, there is no way to draw the line at any particular restriction. We would wind up being ruled by the bureaucrats and other experts -- that is, the people who are the best informed of all. It's already hard to avoid government by experts even if everyone votes.

If we want a democracy,  the rule of the people, then that means making it easy for everyone to participate. And the battleground that matters the most when it comes to voting participation is voter registration.

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

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net