Monday, December 10, 2012

Proposal: Election Day voter registration for Takoma Park municipal elections


Please consider the following a proposal -- 
Takoma Park municipal elections -- for mayor and six councilmembers -- take place in November every odd numbered year, every two years. Voter turnout is often low, especially in uncontested races, with rates under 10%, and in the three more ethnically and economically diverse wards, Wards 4, 5, and 6. Even hotly contested races do not elicit turnout above 40%.
Election Day voter registration (EDVR), for Takoma Park municipal elections, is one step among many possible that may lead to greater electoral participation. Rather than having to register a month prior to Election Day --
Eligible, unregistered Takoma Park residents would simply show up at the voting place, ID establishing residency in hand, and would fill out the Maryland state registration form and be allowed to vote.
Takoma Park election staff would provide and accept the Maryland registration form. Election staff would verify the person's ID. The city clerk would copy and then transfer the original of each form accepted to the Montgomery County Board of Elections so that the person would be registered for the next national/state/county election.
Non-US citizens may register to vote in Takoma Park municipal elections. EDVR for non-citizens would be via the city's form for non-citizen registrations.
Benefits
Given that excitement about municipal elections grows only after the nominating caucus a month before Election Day, EDVR could well attract new voters who have only recently moved to Takoma Park or who have never voted. Given use of the state registration form, these new voters would then be able to vote in the following year's county, state, and national elections.
These new voters could include youth, not yet 18 years of age, who would be eligible, via pre-registration, to vote in the following year's general election, per a pre-registration provision of Maryland law.
Candidates could be encouraged to extend their campaigns to encompass a registration drive, particularly targeting youth and underrepresented segments of the community, thus aiding in inclusion efforts.
Relationship to current law
Takoma Park currently allows provisional voting. Election judges accept and hold separately ballots of individuals who claim they are registered but whose names do not appear on registration rolls. Voter registration, via the Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE), typically takes several weeks to process. That is, registrants are not eligible to vote immediately on submission of a valid registration form to the BOE, much less to a body soliciting registrations with the intention of forwarding the forms to the BOE for processing.
EDVR would supplement provisional voting. That is, the city could continue to accept provisional ballots from those who believe themselves already registered. As a fail-safe, an individual casting a provisional ballot, to ensure that his/her votes count, in case in actuality he/she was not properly registered, could submit a Maryland voter-registration form. [A point to verify:] The difference is that ID is not required of voters casting provisional ballots. EDVR would replace the "written affirmation submitted with the provisional ballot that the individual is a qualified voter of the City and is otherwise eligible to vote in that election" (city code 5.22.010-A) with a Maryland voter registration form submitted with the ballot. The city would take the signed affirmation on the voter-registration form, coupled with the address provided, verified by ID inspection, as sufficient for municipal Election Day registration.
Precedent
Eight states plus the District of Columbia have some form of EDVR. They do not include Maryland. North Dakota does not require voter registration. A Wikipedia article summarizes.
Authority
According to Alice Wilkerson, chief of staff to Maryland D-20 Senator Jamie Raskin, writing in a September 24, 2012 e-mail message, "According to the [Maryland] Board of Elections, the City can have same day registration for municipal elections as long as they make it clear to people that they would still need to register with the state in order to vote in state and federal elections."
Implementation steps
EDVR implementation would require a change to the city charter.
Projected time-line
  1. Community and informal council discussion to gauge support: Through January 14, 2013.
  2. Council decision to proceed with a public hearing: January 14, 2013 council meeting.
  3. Submission of notice of a public hearing for publication in the February 2013 issue of the city newsletter: January XX, 2013.
  4. Public hearing, required for a charter change: February 2013.
  5. Council worksession for discussion and approval of a draft charter-change resolution: Early March 2013.
  6. First- and second-reading council votes: March 2013.
  7. Charter change takes effect:
  8. 2013 nominating caucus: October XX, 2013.
  9. 2013 municipal election: November XX, 2013.
Concerns
Voter fraud: Yes, there's potential for fraud, if someone provides a false address. Presumably, such a person, if caught, could be prosecuted. Would we be allowed to verify the person's driver's license (if the person gives a number on his/her voter-registration form) or ask for other proof of city residence? It would be good to do that if allowed, or we could simply accept the person's signed affirmation on the form.
Cost: Implementation costs would be the time cost and staff and city-attorney's labor cost resulting from a charter-change initiative. Implementation cost is additional election staffing, perhaps the equivalent of half an election work, for each polling place.
Effectiveness: Frankly, it is difficult to say how many new voters EDVR would bring to municipal elections, but consider that the implementation and operational costs are very modest. The potential benefits are sufficient to justify this initiative. There is an added benefit: A successful EDVR initiative could inspire other Maryland local governments, and perhaps the state government, to implement EDVR.
Variations
Takoma Park holds a nominating caucus one month before municipal Election Day. Caucus-day voter registrants could be allowed to nominate candidates at the caucus.
Takoma Park allows for the initiation of ballot referendums by petition signed by registered voters. The petition signatures of signature-day voter registrants could count toward the referendum-petition threshold.
What are your thoughts?

3 comments:

  1. I recently moved from Virginia, to Takoma Park, Ward 3 or 4. In the last election I registered w/o a MD driver's license, voted by mail and my ballot was rejected-- a life time first. I would say that from my sample of 1, that voter suppression is a real problem and I heartily welcome the re-enfranchisement of the city's residents by doing, well, anything. With barriers to voting, I'm surprised the turn out is as high as it is.

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  2. I am a native Minnesotan, where we have always enjoyed same-day registration with no big problems. I can definitely say after living in this area for the past 12 years that not having this option discourages turn-out! I'm all for this!

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  3. Seth, you've entered my zone of decision analytics -- I think this is a good proposal, because I want to remove any and all barriers to voting, but I don't know if it will be very effective.

    I think the biggest impediments to turnout in Tk Pk are the odd year schedule and the fact that we change many voters' voting location, wc is confusing. Barry Howard even posted the wrong location before the last election urging folks to vote at the NH gym, and then strenuously correcting himself to send his voters to the right place -- this is not a ding at Barry, I'm using him as an example of someone very informed about city affairs still making a mistake.

    People defend the odd year schedule because then all we have to focus on is city races. I empathize with that logic, but the counterweight is that in fact, a majority of residents do not find out about the races and do not participate. I believe our electorate is majority white, and our city is not, and that troubles me greatly.
    Donna Victoria

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