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Ensuring all eligible voters can vote on Election Day

By Emily Scarr
State Director

Maryland PIRG strongly supports SB594/HB532.

A functioning democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. Every American – Republican, Democrat, Independent – has a fundamental right to vote and have their voted counted. Our Democracy works best when everybody makes his or her voice heard on Election Day. Voting also serves as a building block to more active involvement in civic life. 

We should make every effort to increase voter participation by making voter registration and the act of voting simple and accessible to all eligible voters. Unfortunately, many eligible Maryland voters are not voting, due in part to our outdated voter registration system. 

In the 2016 presidential election, turnout in Maryland as a percentage of the voting population was at its lowest in 24 years. In 2014, only 42% of youth between the ages of 18-24 were registered to vote before the election, compared to 74% of over 25-year-olds.  Numerous studies have shown that voting is habit forming, and youth who vote are more likely to become life-long voters. Likewise, young people who are registered to vote turn out in high numbers, very close to the rate of older voters. The voter registration gap in young people is a driving force in low youth voter participation.

In Maryland PIRG’s 45-year history of working with young people and running non-partisan voter registration drives, we have found that most young people want to and intend to participate in voting, but as new voters, they often struggle to navigate the voter registration system or forget they need to update their registration every time they move.

During the 2014 midterm elections, for example, Maryland PIRG students helped register and turn out thousands of University of Maryland students to vote and saw a 25% increase in voter participation at the campus polling location, the highest turnout in the last six midterm elections. If you ask students to vote and help them navigate the system, they will.

Marylanders can update their addresses or register for the first time during Early Voting. Nearly 20,000 voters used the program in 2016. We should expand this program to Election Day. 

Election Day voter registration should work hand in hand with other policies, like the Secure and Accessible Registration Act, a form of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), in order to get as many eligible voters on the rolls before Election Day as possible. Election Day Voter Registration would thus be limited to the small number of voters who need to update registration or have otherwise fallen through the cracks of our voter registration process.

By updating our voter registration process we can: encourage first time and young voters; we can increase civic participation; and, we can build a more functional democracy.

We respectfully request a favorable report on SB594/HB532.

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