March 15, 2019 - 9:00 pm
County election officials are sounding the alarm on same-day voter registration.
Last week, state Sen. James Ohrenschall presented Senate Bill 123. It would allow individuals to register on Election Day and then cast a ballot.
SB123 “would make it possible for more of our constituents to participate in their government by removing obstacles in front of them for their right to exercise their vote,” Sen. Ohrenschall said.
Whatever you think about same-day registration, that argument is a canard. The registration deadline isn’t an obstacle. It’s a timeline. If someone registers late, that’s on them. Plus, they’ll remain registered for the next election, assuming they can remember when it is. Pretty soon, someone will argue that not allowing people to cast votes after Election Day is an unacceptable obstacle to voting rights.
After Ohrenschall introduced the bill, county registrars and officials with the secretary of state’s office talked about how it would work logistically. In short, it wouldn’t — if you want a system that prevents people from voting twice.
“If same-day registration process is handled with a paper form, other than signing an affidavit affirming that the voter has not already voted in the election, there can be no guarantee that the voter has not registered to vote at another location on Election Day,” Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria testified. “Not until after the election will clerks have the ability to identify that the voter has not voted at another site, which is problematic.”
Mr. Gloria proposed a solution, which piqued Ohrenschall’s interest: Have newly registered voters cast a full provisional ballot. After the election, registrars would be able to see if that person had cast another ballot. If not, the ballot would count. There would be no way, however, to check if a person had cast a ballot in another state.
While that reform would be better than the current proposal, it wouldn’t solve the other logistical problems facing registrars. Mr. Gloria estimates the county would have to hire three additional workers for each polling place. He noted that the county currently struggles to find enough workers for Election Day. Even if every polling place has enough workers, lines would likely be much longer in busy polling places. That’s not the only thing that would be longer. An increase in provisional ballots could delay election results for several days or even weeks in tight races.
All of this inconvenience would be expensive. An estimate from Clark County put the cost at $1.4 million every two years. It would cost the secretary of state’s office a similar amount of money, assuming the bill is amended to require those voters to use provisional ballots.
Everyone wants to ensure eligible voters have access to the voting booth. But the existing registration deadlines are not discriminatory or burdensome. SB123 creates many more problems than it solves.