The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 17, 2008

Election day pros, cons aired before lawmakers

By Mannix Porterfield

CHARLESTON — Election day registration is almost totally bereft of fraud and inspires more Americans to mark ballots who otherwise wouldn’t vote, says the director of the New York-based, non-profit Democracy Program.

Even with such glaring positives, county clerks in West Virginia oppose the idea, but might be receptive to a compromise of allowing registration in the early voting period, Wood County Clerk Jamie Six told a legislative panel Monday.

And, the incoming secretary of state, Natalie Tennant, hasn’t made up her mind about election day registration, but is willing to look at the concept.

“I will keep an open mind in looking at this,” Tennant said.

“I like the idea of the compromise that Clerk Six came up with, during the early voting period. I don’t think we should make it a burden on county clerks. If it can be done during early voting, and it’s not too much of a burden on the county clerks, I think we can attempt to do something like that.”

Stuart Comstock-Gay, a New Hampshire resident and director of Democracy Program, said surveys have shown that same-day registration increases voter turnout, particularly among younger voters.

“You can typically expect a 5 to 6 percent increase in turnout,” he said.

“And once people vote a first time, they’re 80 percent more likely to vote again.”

Same-day registration is permitted in nine states, he pointed out.

As for concerns about violations, Comstock-Gay said a mere 40 instances of illegal registrations were proven out of 200 million votes cast.

“Evidence is overwhelming that election day registration is almost completely unrelated to voter fraud,” he told members of Judiciary Subcommittee B.

As opposed to mail-in registration forms, he said, a voter with mischief in mind finds it “a lot harder” to be deceitful when looking face-on with a clerk at the courthouse.

While some clerks fuss about the imposition of extra work on election day, generally they accept the idea as simply part of the territory of working at the courthouse, he said.

“I have been struck how adamantly opposed our county clerks are to election day registration,” said one panelist, Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha.

Six outlined a number of reasons why clerks dislike the idea, including confusion at the polls on election day, and the difficulty, at times, in finding enough workers.

“A lot of executive committees are having enough trouble finding poll workers the way it is,” he said.

“Some clerks are still against any kind of change.”

Even so, some of those polled across the state are willing to try it during the early voting process, he said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com