By Julie Anderson
Leaves are turning. The Seahawks are playing. And voter registration events are in full swing.
All signs that fall has arrived!
There’s always a big push to register voters before the November election. It’s no accident that National Voter Registration Day is Sept. 26. And now through October, the Pierce County auditor’s office is mounting a “500,000 Voters” campaign. We’re determined to break the half-million mark for active registered voters.
Washington state’s voter registration rate is quite healthy, regularly in the top quarter of the nation. During the 2016 general election, we ranked 10th in the nation for voter turnout, with a registration rate of 77.1 percent. Pierce County followed very closely with 76.8 percent voter registration.
We shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Making voter registration easy is the first necessary step toward voting, and it deserves our attention.
If we narrow our focus to the voting-eligible population, you’ll find that we’ve registered roughly 83 percent of the eligible population. That leaves just 17 percent eligible adults to register. The low-hanging fruit has been harvested. We’re going to need a ladder to reach the rest!
The Legislature and election administrators are considering several different solutions:
• Automatic registration – individuals with an enhanced driver’s license, commercial license, etc. (where citizenship has been verified) would be automatically registered, unless they choose to opt out.
• 16 and 17-year-old pre-registration. This in an expansion of Motor Voter. When teens apply for their driver’s license, they’d be offered to sign up to vote, when they turn 18.
• Same-day registration does exactly what it says. Eligible unregistered citizens could go to the auditor’s office on Election Day, register to vote, and then cast a ballot. Fifteen states allow some variation of same day registration.
As election administrators evaluate these options, everyone should keep in mind that voter registration doesn’t necessarily result in better turnout. As our voter registration universe grows, our turnout will drop.
The fact of the matter is that people must want to vote. Voter registration deserves our attention, but motivating people to return a ballot, even in the effortless state of Washington, is the greatest challenge.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson overees elections for the county. She wrote this article for the county voters pamphlet for the current election.