Why is voter registration necessary in the US voting system?

  • In Europe I lived in different countries and I was always able to vote (national and local elections in my home country, and local elections elsewhere) without having to do anything beforehand: the day of the election I present myself to the polling place, I show my ID and whatever document I might have received by snail-mail in the previous days, the personnel at the polling place checks that I am in the voting list for that place, and I am able to proceed.

    The only exception is when I vote in a different place from where I generally live, and in these occasions I have to warn the town hall/government a few days in advance.

    What makes this inapplicable in the US? What is the registration needed for?

    I don't understand voter registration in the US either, however, doesn't the fact that you have a national ID means the government can automatically register you to vote once you are eligible? Isn't that how the voting lists you mention are created in the first place?

    @Yannis I voted in the Netherlands and in Germany for the local town hall using my Italian ID, so not strictly. It is true though that in both cases I made my presence known when I moved there (also for tax purposes). But that is done only once, not every election.

    > I voted in the Netherlands and in Germany for the local town hall using my Italian ID. unless an italian is allowed to vote in elections in netherlands / germany, doesn't that mean this is some kind of fraud?

    @Federico voter registration in the US is generally done once, too, each time you move, not for each election.

    @dannyf EU citizens have the right to vote in local elections in their place of residence. So there's no fraud: Italians *are* allowed to vote in elections in Germany or the Netherlands if they reside there.

    @phoog that is something that was not clear to me. thanks!

    "_the personnel at the polling place checks that I am in the voting list for that place_" How do you get on the voting list? How can they tell you're not on some other voting list, say in a different constituency in the same election?

    @user316117 At least here (in Finland) you get on the voting list by filing your new address. There is some lag in the system (at least there used to be, this may be oudated). If you move to a new place one week before an election, it may happen that you are only on the voting list of your earlier residence. That is not a problem at all, because we always have the option to mail in our ballot a week prior to the election (so they have ample time to relay the information about you having already voted to the officials managing the local voting lists).

    (cont'd) Anyway, a few weeks before an election all eligible voters get snail-mail information about the location of the voting station (one and only) where they are on the list. This really is that simple and more or less failsafe.

    I second what user316117 said. How is being "in the voting list for that place" not the same as being registered?

    @DoritoStyle You get automatically added to that voting list the day you turn 18 (or whatever the age of majority is, or possibly on January 1st of that year, I don't remember the details). You don't have to do anything yourself. That is why we think the US system is strange. I guess the problem is that you don't have a central registry there (federal or state level, makes no difference), so nobody has a database telling where everybody lives.

    Anyway, I was planning on asking about this same thing myself. A bit of googling gave me this. I guess many details are explained there.

    My understanding is also that in the US there is no population registry. Instead of maintaining a reasonably up to date database, the Americans put a lot of effort into a census every 10 years or so. I guess it is just their tradition to make this more difficult than necessary :-) Our way makes censuses totally unnecessary.

    Manual single-purpose registration make vote suppression much easier.

    @JyrkiLahtonen I think if you look at European history you might come to understand why the founders didn't want the government to keep records on all its citizens unless necessary.

    @Andy I'm sure there are valid historical reasons why this was not done in the US a couple centuries ago. Sorry about the little quib. After all, such registries are also used by tax and conscription authorities! In the current relatively peaceful times this is a non-issue for me personally (I served my time in early '80s). There have been times, when such registries could be abused.. However, some such registries are unavoidable. Even in the US the IRS knows a lot about most of you. As do the credit companies, and (globally) more recently Google.

    Anyway, when we the people have a degree of political control on what is on those registries and who can use the data, I am quite ok with having them. The pros outweigh the cons IMHO. And I am a little bit curious about why the US would not consider building such a registry nowadays. The union has been very stable for quite a while now after all

    I every single country I know you need to be registered somewhere to be able to vote there, and come with an ID. The US seems to be actually extremely permissive on that subject and I don't get why there isn't massive fraud by the millions...

    Also a reason for registration: So we don't have people under the voting age (18) voting.....or dead people voting (has happened a few times in the past lol) Then again, we still use our stupid electoral college which is pointless and outdated.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    @JyrkiLahtonen The reasons are just as valid today as they were when the US Constitution was written. And no, tax and conscription (draft) don't use voter registries. Taxing is usually done via the SSN assigned at birth (assuming your parents applied to get you one, which is normal), and by law every man must register for the draft when they turn 18. Those are both separate processes from voter registration. Yes, the IRS and credit card companies and other agencies know about you in the US, but they typically don't share that information (sometimes by law).

    @JyrkiLahtonen Just look at Brexit for an example of how quickly some things can change. People were fine with registries, and look how quickly Hitler rose to power. The union is stable, but Americans have a higher degree of distrust and skepticism when it comes to government to this day, due to the history of the counties founding and our culture.

    @Andy: I think your last sentence is the key. Americans distrust their government - we trust ours. I lived in the US for 4 years in the late 80's, observed this, and have been trying to understand the root cause of this difference. I am not sure what it is (I understand math better than people). May be it is the sheer size and diversity, and ... distance? After all, many European people distrust the EU not unlike many Americans distrust their federal government. I don't know the answer, but I am always a little bit surprised by the argument that the government could go bad...

    (cont'd) I mean, it is not as if the US were about to turn into something like a banana republic run by a junta, right?

    @JyrkiLahtonen Well, that's the point. A constitutionally limited government, a hard to change constitution, the bill of rights (free speech, gun ownership, due process, etc.), AND the citizens not trusting the government... the hope of the founders was to prevent just that. And governments historically do that; Greek democracy collapsed, the Roman Republic become the Roman Empire, democratic Germany became fascist when Hitler was elected, etc.

  • Philipp

    Philipp Correct answer

    5 years ago

    In European countries it is usually mandatory to register your place of residence with the local municipality. Births and deaths also need to be reported. That means that the local municipalities have a complete list of their residents with enough information about them to know who is eligible for voting. So they can just send every person with suffrage their voting papers prior to the election.

    Not so in the United States.

    There is no duty to register your place of residence. That means if you want to be eligible for voting, you need to register voluntarily.

    This is also true in the UK.

    Steve, which, the EU registration requirements or the passive system? I'm thinking you mean the registration requirement but because Philipp ended talking about the US, continuing reading to your comment, it almost sounds like you're saying the UK system matches the US instead? Please clarify :-)

    @JeopardyTempest I believe that Steve's comment was intended to convey that the UK more closely resembles the US in this regard. There is no mandatory registration with the municipality, so there is a need for voters to register to vote.

    "There is no duty to register your place of residence." This is not true in all parts of the U.S. In Tennessee, for example, you're required to notify the government with 10 days of moving, so that your address records tied to your driver's license (or other government-issued ID) are correct. AFAIK, births and deaths are also required to be reported for similar reasons.

    @reirab But you're not required to have a driver's license or state id, so its not really the same. You're keeping your driver's license information or state issued id information accurate, which is different then just informing the government that you live somewhere for no other reason than they want to know.

    @Andy Ah, it appears that you're right. I had in mind that it was required for anyone moving within or into the state, but the relevant law apparently only applies to people who have a driver's license.

    As to why registration is voluntary, it has to do with the philosophy that citizens should never be arbitrarily forced to do anything without a compelling reason, and also that government records of any kind could be used for oppression. The same objections apply to many other ideas like gun registries. The nature of the federal system comes into play as well. It may seem odd that the states separately manage elections, even for national offices.

    This seems wrong. Doesn't USPS know where you live? Or doesn't *some* branch of the government necessarily have to know where you live? Otherwise how would they ever deliver (say) court papers to you?

    USPS doesn't send you mail; they deliver mail to your address that someone else gave them. As far as court papers go, for legal action, it's up to the plaintiff to find you.

    @ToddWilcox Exactly. The US was founded with the idea that government is evil; necessary, but evil, and thus its powers must be limited to protect the freedom of people.

    @Mehrdad No, they don't. They deliver mail to a building, but when you move you never inform the USPS. You just tell people what your address is, and people write your name above the address. You can tell them to forward your mail if you move for your convince, but even that is for a limited time (and presumably expires after a time). But if i let a friend stay with me for a few weeks, and his friend knows, they can address mail to him at my address and it makes no difference to the USPS.

    @Andy: So what about the court thing I just mentioned?

    @mehrdad The court needs to know your address, or someone needs to provide it. This can be the person suing you that provides it, the police look at your id it you have it on you, they might have your last known address. They can ask relatives where you live and work, or it they know who your friends are etc. The person that serves the papers is responsible for finding you.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM