Should we make voting as easy as possible so that more people will vote? If we make voting easier, will many ineligible people vote? When Maine votes on Nov. 8 on Question 1 — deciding whether to overturn the Legislature’s plan to end voter registration on future election days — it will answer these two questions. In recent decades, Maine has allowed people to register to vote on Election Day, eliminating the need to register separately and in advance. It is one of 10 states that have so-called “same-day” registration, which will still be in effect on Nov. 8.
The theory is that voting is made easier by eliminating the need for advance registration, so more people will vote. Although many factors affect turnout, in the 2010 elections, average turnout in the “same-day” states was 48.3 percent, compared with 40.9 percent in the United States as a whole. Encouraging voting is American public policy. For example, the federal “motor-voter” law allows registration when renewing a driver’s license.
While we know much about participation, we have few statistics on illegal voting, almost certainly because voter fraud is rare in all states. For example, an Ohio study of two elections there in which a total of more than 9 million votes were cast, found four cases of voter fraud. Polling data shows that a relatively few people are seriously worried about fraud. Isolated cases of voting by ineligible voters have been found, but they amount to a tiny fraction of one percent of votes cast. A few illegal voters, some for innocent reasons, are not evidence of an attempt by a political organization to influence the outcome of an election.