The elections of 2008 served as a critical test of the nation’s election systems.  With changes in voting machines and procedures, coupled with expectations of record voter turnout, election administrators held their breath and hoped their system wouldn’t fail.

While the system didn’t fail, voters faced serious obstacles in exercising their right to vote.  Voter registration ended up being the problem that effected the largest number of voters.  Even before the first votes were cast, it was apparent that our voter registration systems were woefully inadequate.  While in other nations 90% or more of the eligible voter population is registered to vote, in the United States less than 75% of eligible voters are registered.

We can do better. 

The lack of registered voters was not the only aspect of our voter-initiated registration systems that drew notice this year.  The right-wing tried to divert blame for faulty registration procedures onto groups working to register low-income and minority voters, particularly promoting attacks on the community group ACORN, instead of recognizing that the problem was in the heavy barriers to people registering to vote in the first place.

Recognizing the significant challenges to voter registration from mismanagement and suppression, and seeking a new level of security for the right to vote, momentum is developing for a comprehensive solution – universal voter registration.  As this Dispatch outlines, under a system of universal registration, government would take primary responsibility for registering all voters. 

The United States stands apart among advanced democracies for the onerous nature of its current voter registration laws and practices.  These laws and practices by nature restrict voter registration and have been easily manipulated by political actors to be even more restrictive than intended.  Many election reform advocates, state legislators, and election law scholars believe now is the time to move forward deliberately toward universal registration and in turn cut the Gordian knot of voter suppression and partisan skirmishing that has been wound by the current system.  Progressive States Network will be working with advocates to help move forward this new initiative for universal registration in states across the country.