I. In Focus This Week
Thousands of Americans use same-day registration this year
Illinois latest state on verge of making same-day registration permanent
You’ve all heard the story.
The young couple in Chicago waiting hours to use the city’s new same-day registration system to register to vote and then finally casting their ballot just after 3 a.m. on November 5.
What you most likely haven’t heard about are the thousands of Americans in other parts of Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado and nine other states and the District of Columbia that utilized same-day registration with little to no problem on November 4.
While same-day registration took some well-publicized legislative and legal hits in Ohio and North Carolina recently, it is working and by many accounts working well in other jurisdictions.
In fact, it’s working so well in Montana that the residents overwhelmingly defeated a referendum this November that would have eliminated that state’s election day registration.
During the November 4, election, in Suburban Cook County 3,604 residents used same-day registration during the pilot program this election and according to Clerk David Orr, there were no serious problems.
“It worked quite well and certainly proved the need,” said Orr who has long been a champion of same-day registration.
Orr said that the numbers for the state’s pilot of same-day registration were better than he expected and think that may have helped encourage lawmakers to move on legislation this week that makes same-day registration permanent statewide [You can read more about the legislation on the Election Academy’s blog today].
“I think it’s a good thing,” Orr said. “It’s always an adjustment for those of us who run elections, and I know some of my colleagues are worried, but I think it will save money and other than during presidential years, won’t require additional people working at the polls.”
Orr noted that other changes the legislation will bring with it when finally signed into law will actually make the need for same day registration less pressing.
You don’t want to have a lot of same day people,” Orr said. “We believe we’re going to dramatically improve our process which means that there will be far fewer people that need to do this and it will be much easier for the clerks.”
As one of a series of election day changes, Colorado implemented election-day registration for the first time this November. According to the secretary of state’s office, 4,695 people registered and voted on November 4.
Because of the sweeping changes instituted with HB 13-1303, elections officials were faced with a lack of technology to accommodate it all so the secretary of state’s IT staff developed technology in-house.
The new technology required constant Internet access, even to the most rural areas and according to Gary Zimmerman, chief of staff for the secretary of state’s office, unfortunately there were some issues with the Internet service that caused a strain on they system and authentication process.
In addition there was heavier than expected walk-up traffic in Metro Denver in the afternoon of November 4 that created some lines.
“Overall and with the exception of occasional slowness created by the snowballed effects of the Internet outage, county administrators were highly-complimentary of the performance of the new VSPC and Electronic Pollbook performance,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman noted that the office has initiated an after-action review involving election administrators, IT professionals and others to identify issues and opportunities for improvement.
“A report will be released in early February,” Zimmerman said. “The Colorado Secretary of State’s office built the nation’s first statewide electronic pollbook in less than a year and it worked very well.”
While things didn’t go smoothly throughout Connecticut on Election Day, the Nutmeg state had relatively few problems with same-day registration with approximately 14,000 residents registering and casting a ballot.
SDR was first implemented at the municipal level in 2013.
“Election Day Registration was very successful overall in Connecticut in 2014,” said Secretary of State Denise Merrill. “My office put special emphasis – including hiring additional staff – on making sure municipalities in Connecticut were prepared to deal with the larger crowds of EDR voters this year as compared to last year when we first implemented it for the municipal elections.”
There were a few places where there were large EDR voters who all showed up later in the day that created lines and unfortunately some potential voters were not able to complete the registration process by 8 p.m. and therefore unable to vote.
“Some people were frustrated by this, but that is to be expected with a last minute rush of people,” Merrill said. “But clearly, for a first time in a statewide election with Election Day Registration, there are always things to learn and ways we can improve what we are doing.”
Merrill said her office did not hear of any instances in which municipalities were not prepared for the EDR crowds of voters. She noted that there will be a de-briefing on how EDR worked that will include members of her staff as well as local elections officials. She said that based on feedback from localities, there could be tweaks to the system.
“What’s clear is that Election Day Registration was very popular and successful in 2014, and that cuts across party lines and geographical areas,” Merrill said. “It helps include more Connecticut citizens in democracy, and that is a good thing for our state. It helps every one of us have a more responsive government. So it is in all of our interests to make sure EDR is as successful as it can be.”
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