States and Congress can take many more steps to making voting easier

Voters cast their ballot at the athletic wing of Orange High School, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Moreland Hills, Ohio. Election officials in two of Ohio's counties say lines of voters dwindled some after an early wave of Ohioans who cast their ballots early in the state's general election. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Beyond changing Election Day, there are many steps that all levels of government can take to make voting easier.

Here are a few possibilities, based on what some states and other places are already doing:

  • Make Election Day a holiday: Short of actually changing Election Day, the US could make Election Day a national holiday so it doesn’t conflict with work responsibilities. The research is mixed on whether this would actually help, but it’s worth considering.
  • Allow or expand early voting: Most states already allow no-excuse early voting, but some limit it to one or two weeks, weekdays, and, worse, 9-to-5 office hours. But a few states have proven that it’s possible to offer much more expansive voting windows — Minnesota, for example, allows early voting 46 days before Election Day. Others, like Maine and Iowa, allow voting as soon as ballots are available — which can be as early as up to 45 days before Election Day.
  • Move some or all voting to mail: Colorado, Oregon, and Washington only vote by mail, setting up systems that let people pick up or print out ballots and simply mail them in to their local voting office. There are some concerns to only allowing mail-in voting, including ballots getting lost in the mail and potentially making it easier for family members or peers to coerce a person into voting a certain way. But mail-in voting is one way that states can potentially expand voting time on the cheap, since they no longer need to hire staff to supervise polling booths.
  • Automatically register people to vote, or register everyone: To this day, all but one state (North Dakota) require people to register to vote. This just adds another hurdle to voting. States could take steps to automatically register people to vote, as Oregon did. Or maybe they could do away with registration, like North Dakota has — allowing people to instead prove on Election Day that they live in the state with a state-issued ID or other identification documents.
  • Relax strict voter ID laws: Over the past few years, more states have adopted strict laws that limit what IDs someone needs to show on Election Day to vote. For example, they might allow a government-issued photo ID as proof to vote, but ban a student ID or bank statement. This is supposedly to combat voter fraud, but in-person voter fraud is very rare anyway — between 2000 and 2014, there were only 35 credible allegations of voter fraud, while more than 1 billion ballots were cast. So maybe these laws can be relaxed to allow more forms of ID or not require an ID at all.
  • Online voting: This would be the most convenient form of voting possible for anyone with a computer, tablet, or phone connected to the internet. But there are enormous security risks: At a time when hackers are managing to break into all sorts of places — and even shutting down the internet for huge swaths of the country — it’s extremely risky.

All of these help address a serious problem: The US has relatively low voter turnout for a wealthy nation — meaning much of the population isn’t having its voice heard. About 53.6 percent of the US voting-age population turned out to vote in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. Other countries reported much higher shares of their voting-age population turning out to vote in recent elections: 87.2 percent in Belgium, 66 percent in Germany, and 61.1 percent in the UK.

Some of the difference is explained by differences in policies. Unlike most wealthy countries, the US doesn’t automatically register voters (as Germany and Sweden do), and it doesn’t seek them out aggressively to push them to register (as the UK and Australia do). And the US definitely doesn’t go as far as Belgium, which makes voting compulsory — an idea with some merit, as Dylan Matthews explained for Vox.

All of that, of course, falls on top of more typical voting issues, such as a lack of access to transportation to get to a polling place on Election Day or being unable to take time away from work or family life to vote.

The policy changes listed above could alleviate these issues. Some of them, particularly the expansion of voting days, cost more money. It’s going to be up to lawmakers and their constituents in different jurisdictions to decide what the right balance of costs and access to voting is.

But whatever approach one takes, it’s clear that there is a lot that could be done to make voting easier. And we can start by reconsidering when Election Day happens.


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