A basic fact often gets lost in the propaganda that swirls around voting laws in this country: between one-quarter and one-third of all eligible voters — more than 50 million Americans — are not registered. That alarming statistic is the backdrop to efforts by Republicans in recent years to pass state laws that restrict ballot access, a recent Democratic campaign to push back against those laws, and a bold set of proposals that Hillary Rodham Clinton laid out Thursday afternoon in a speech at Texas Southern University, a historically black college in Houston. In addition to pushing needed and long-overdue reforms, the speech highlighted the yawning gulf on voting rights between Mrs. Clinton and the Republican candidates for the White House, many of whom have been cynically committed to making voting harder for the most vulnerable citizens. “What part of democracy are they afraid of?” Mrs. Clinton asked.
Most significantly, Mrs. Clinton called for universal and automatic voter registration, which would register every American citizen at 18. This would be a transformative step toward modernizing the nation’s archaic, error-filled approach to registering voters.
No state currently has such inclusive registration, although Oregon came closest in March when it passed a law automatically registering eligible citizens with a driver’s license — instantly adding 300,000 voters to the rolls. Since then, 14 states have considered similar proposals to put the burden of registration on the government, where it belongs, and not on individuals.