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Same-day voter registration will improve our elections

February 4, 2019

One of my jobs as your secretary of state is to act as the state’s chief elections officer. As such, I’m committed to modernizing our elections for the 21st century, and same-day voter registration is integral to that goal.

My life in public service has been dedicated to expanding access to the ballot box and fulfilling the promise of our democracy by increasing participation in elections. Our representative form of government can only be of, by, and for the people if the people are actually participating in it. Though New Mexico already is a national model for safe and secure elections because of our paper ballots, post-election audits and other best practices, there is much more we can do to make it easier, not harder, for eligible New Mexicans to vote.

Same-day voter registration is one meaningful way to increase voter participation, and I am supporting the effort to enact such a law during this legislative session. This policy is essential to modernizing our elections and giving more eligible voters the opportunity to participate.

The basic idea of same-day registration is that it allows a voter to register to vote and cast their ballot on the same day. There are 17 states plus the District of Columbia — including our western neighbors Utah and Colorado — that offer this one-stop process for registering and voting, some allowing registration up until Election Day, others allowing it only during the early voting period.

In New Mexico, you must be registered to vote 28 days before an election. This arbitrary deadline is a holdover from the days when county clerks had to manually process registrations and needed this cutoff to ensure the voter rolls would be ready for the upcoming election. As you might imagine, technological and logistical advances in election administration have made such antiquated deadlines mostly obsolete. A registration deadline four weeks before an election, in the prime time of campaigning when most voters are just beginning to become interested in the election, discourages everyday people with busy lives from voting.

Same-day registration is an acknowledgement that voters should have flexibility when participating in their democracy. No one should be denied the opportunity to vote simply because their lives didn’t allow them to register far in advance of an election.

When you give voters more time to register, more people register, and then more people vote. Following an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data on voter registration statistics, the Center for American Progress concluded that “[s]imply registering more people to vote [increases] participation, as registered individuals are more likely to cast a ballot in elections.” And according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states with same-day registration see an average of a 5 percent increase in voter turnout.

Voting is habitual. Once you take one step you’re more likely to take the next one — for example, voting in a primary means you’re more likely to vote in a general election, and so on. The 2018 general election saw 55 percent of eligible New Mexicans vote, which is strong turnout by historical standards, but means that almost half of New Mexico voters didn’t participate.

Voting may only be on most people’s minds right before an election, but improving our elections is my No. 1 goal. Same-day voter registration is a time-tested and secure way to improve our elections by increasing participation. And when more eligible people vote, democracy wins.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver is the New Mexico Secretary of State.

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