a grand bargain on voting rules

For what other activity would you be required to register and then wait more than a month before actually doing the thing? Today is the last day to register to vote if you live in 17 states and the District of Columbia.* The actual election is in November. In most states, you may only vote within a limited span of hours, at one particular site in your neighborhood.

I mention this because I happened to hear the host and callers on local Boston conservative talk radio expressing astonishment that you don’t have to show a photo ID to vote. The tenor of the discussion was a series of rhetorical questions: Would you be able to take money out of a bank without ID? Would you be able to check into a hotel?

Well, maybe: ATMs don’t require photo ID, although they do take and store your picture. But certainly there are ATMs all over the place, open 24/7, and ready to use as soon as you put money in the bank. Voting in Massachusetts is possibly easier than other transactions in one respect (no ID is required)–but it is far more difficult in other ways.

I am not personally concerned about voter fraud in the form of people pretending to be other people at the polling place. Doing so would risk a felony conviction, and for what?–to cast a single extra vote for the candidate you prefer hardly seems worth the risk. Lori Minnite found no evidence that it happens.

That said, I’d be willing to enter a grand bargain with the folks I heard on talk radio. Let’s make voting really like a secure financial transaction. You’d have to prove who you were, but you could vote at your convenience, 24/7, with no pre-registration or re-registration when you moved.

In fact, this is the roughly deal in some jurisdictions. Twenty-six states offer unrestricted absentee voting. Thirty-one states permit in-person early voting. And nine states offer Election Day registration. Several of these reforms have been found to raise turnout, especially same-day registration. See our fact sheet for a summary.

*Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, DC, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.