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Lawmakers: Election day voter registration would boost participation

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Lawmakers: Election day voter registration would boost participation

  • Martin J. Quezada, D-Avondale, said allowing people to register and vote the same day would increase participation in Arizona elections.
    AJ Vicens/Cronkite News ServiceMartin J. Quezada, D-Avondale, said allowing people to register and vote the same day would increase participation in Arizona elections.

Democratic lawmakers say allowing voters to register and cast ballots on the same day would increase election participation, but some county officials worry that it would further complicate the voting process.

State Rep. Martin J. Quezada, D-Avondale, and state Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, have introduced legislation that would allow people to register and cast provisional ballots on election day. The bills also would rescind a state law cutting off voter registration 29 days before an election.

“People express a lot of interest within those last two to three weeks before an election,” Quezada said. “They’re seeing more commercials, they’re seeing more TV, they’re seeing more mail.”

He said that many people become interested too late and end up not being able to vote.

“Why do we have to have that deadline?” Quezada said. “There are other states who allow people to register to vote and vote any time up to and including on election day. What it does it opens the doors for people to participate in the electoral process.”

If either of the bills becomes law, Arizona would join the eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, in offering same-day registration. Two other states have passed laws creating it.

In addition to Arizona, 10 states have pending legislation proposing same-day registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States with same-day registration have turnout rates nearly 6 percent higher than states that don’t offer it, according to Demos, a progressive public policy research group.

Demos counsel Liz Kennedy said 640,000 Americans voted nationally under same-day registration laws in the 2010 general election. The group’s preliminary research for the 2012 general election, which doesn’t yet include data from all jurisdictions with same-day registration, suggests that more than 800,000 people voted under the laws.

Gallardo said the legislation would bring more Arizona voters into the process.

“You’re opening up doors to people who ordinarily have not had the opportunity to vote,” Gallardo said. “The (29-day) voter registration cutoff is just an obstacle.”

But Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth Pouquette said same-day registration would exacerbate the high numbers of provisional ballots cast by Arizona voters during the 2012 general election, an issue that drew national attention to Arizona and fueled protests by civil rights groups.

It takes time for counties to verify a voter’s eligibility, Stallworth Pouquette said, and same-day registration would slow down an already lengthy process.

“The process we go through, there are so many steps involved from a quality control perspective to make sure it’s accurate, verified and timely,” Stallworth Pouquette said.

Gallardo said the technology available today should help alleviate pressures on election officials, but he acknowledged that the change could create additional provisional ballots.

“Is there a possibility? Yes,” he said. “However, what is the number of people being denied the right to vote? We should do everything we can to make sure everybody has the right to vote.”

Quezada and Gallardo’s legislation, along with a similar bill introduced by Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, is part of a wave of election-reform legislation introduced this session. The bills address such issues as regulations for paid petition circulators and how the permanent early voter list works.

Chris Roads, chief deputy recorder for Pima County and the county’s registrar of voters, said his office doesn’t have an official position on the legislation. About 1,500 people who tried to vote during the 2012 general election in Pima County but weren’t able to could have voted if same-day registration were allowed, Roads said.

He also said a law could force counties to train election-day volunteers on validating identification documents as required under Proposition 200, the state’s proof-of-citizenship law for voters.

But Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network and a supporter of same-day registration, said identification requirements wouldn’t change.

“There really isn’t additional training needed for the documents,” Wercinski said. “They’re already acceptable forms of ID.”

States and same-day registration

  • Offered in Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia.
  • California and Connecticut have approved but not yet implemented same-day registration.
  • Lawmakers have introduced bills calling for same-day registration in Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont.

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