Arguments for and against same-day voter registration

Illustration by Blake Fernandez

Arizona’s voter registration deadline was recently extended from Oct. 5 to Oct. 23, although an appeals court pushed it forward to Oct. 15, which sparked questions about the pros and cons of same-day voter registration. 

Some states, such as California and Washington, allow voters to register on the day of the election by following an automatic system utilizing driver’s licenses or other state identification. However, others like Arizona require voters to register ahead of time. 

Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen previously worked in Minnesota where voters can register on Election Day. However, Hansen noted this structure has some drawbacks. 

“The problem from the administration’s standpoint is we don’t know how many ballots are needed,” Hansen said. “We would have, in Minnesota, 125% of registered voters.”

Additionally, Hansen explained some are concerned about voter fraud. In Minnesota, identification and proof of residence is mandated, whereas Arizona also requires proof of identification in order to prevent fraud. Hansen also described same-day voter legislation that was introduced in Arizona, but did not recall it getting any hearing.

Minnesota takes strong measures to prevent fraud, Hansen added, partly because the state does not have provisional voting. Based on this system, ballots are not counted until they are verified from eligible voters. 

“Nobody was prevented from voting,” Hansen said. “I worked in Hennepin, the largest county in Minnesota in 2000 or 2002, and we had 104,000 registered voters on Election Day.”

Hansen said she dislikes turning people away from the polls, a sentiment shared by NAU political science professor Andrew Dzeguze. He said anything that makes it easier for people to participate — in an informed way — is an important aspect of a democracy.

“I think most people who teach American government wish our participation levels were higher, because we’ve spent 200 years expanding the franchise and over 100 years with declining participation in democracy at the same time,” Dzeguze said. 

Hansen said she sees the potential to make same-day registration work in Arizona. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, which required proof of citizenship to register to vote and utilized data from the Social Security Administration and Motor Vehicle Division (MVD).

“What they do is: When you turn 16 and you get a driver’s license for the first time, they preenroll you,” Dzeguze said. “When you hit 18, you’re automatically moved to the voter records. That’s as seamless as it can possibly be. Now you can choose not to register, but it becomes a personal choice on your part, not to register as opposed to being something you just forgot about.”

Dzeguze raised more concerns about the practice of requiring citizens to register ahead of time, mainly arguing it limits democratic freedoms. He criticized the fact that not filling out paperwork could make the difference, which was based on past elections he observed. 

“In those cases, those were in what turned out to be pretty close elections,” Dzeguze said.

Hansen said a compromise is possible, and she suggested cutting the deadline down to two weeks before the election — instead of the current 29 days. She explained this system was necessary when paper rosters were used at polling places, but modern technology is changing that premise.

“Electronic poll books can be updated on the morning of the election,” Hansen said.

According to data from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, there are almost four million registered voters in Arizona, and Republican voters count for roughly 35% of the electorate. Meanwhile, Democrats number about 32%.