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United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Post.

Voter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 online

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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. Senate. Committee on PostVoter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 → online text (page 16 of 28)
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more shocking. In that year, the eligible electorate was composed of
139.6 million persons 18 years of age and okler. Of those 44.6 per-
cent — 62 million persons — did not vote: 40 million eligible individuals
were not registered. In 1968, election experts have estimated, some 10
million of those who were not registered could have, but did not
register. In 1972, some 17 million of the unregistered could have
registered but failed to do so, due largely to the same conditions that
served as obstacle-s to registration in 1968. This is, of course, the result
of many factors, but the princi]ial ones were the difficulty of meeting
the various State residencv roquirpmonts and absence during periods
for registration, relative inaccessibility of places of registration for
many people, and limited periods of time for registration — a very
effective barrier for many working people.

It is a shocking fact "that in 1968 there were 20_ million persons —
in 1972, the number was even higher, some 22 million — who would
have resristered but were prevented from registering by arbitrary and
restrictive residency requirements and by other votinji laws designed
to inhibit rather than encourage use of the franchise. No one can
accurately guess how many would hnva registered a,nd voted if the
barriers to doing so had not existed, but it is reasonable to assume
millions would have, and many of those who did would have been
members of our unions.

In our view, guessing at numbers is unimportant. "What is im-
portant, we feel, is the prevention of any eligible citizen from voting
by an unfair law or regulation in any election.

Obviously, in recent years there has been projrress toward more
rational and more equitable election laws. The Voting Rights Act
of 1965. extended for 5 more years in 1970, has brouo:ht abouta dra-
matic increase in voting participation by black and other minority
group Americans, and it has eased residency requirements for voting
in presidential elections. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the
Dunn case has also helped tremendously in opening up registration
and votin<r to more people.

Extension of the franchise to 18-year-olds bv reason of adoption
of the 26th amendment made possible the addition of large numbers
to the voting rolls, even though the pattern of registration and voting
of young people does not seem thus far to differ substantially from
that of their elders. Some States have also made sincere, if belated,
efforts to clear away some of the barriers that have stood between citi-
zens and the voting booth for years.

But still, the laws of many States and localities continue to sl-ifle
voter participation. It is time, we believo, to wipe the books clean
and to cease playing around piecemeal with our election laws. It is
time to enact national registration and voting standards.

Important improvements in registration and votin.<T -were included
in the bill S. 2574 introduced in 1971 by Senator McGee, the chair-



163

man of this committee, and other Senators. This bill would have
established a national system of voter registration for voting in
presidential, senatorial and congressional elections, administered by
a National Voter Registration Administration in the Bureau of the
Census. Post card registration forms would have been delivered
through the mail to each postal address preaddressed for mailing to
the appropriate State or local registration office. The bill would have
established a 30-day residency requirement for voting in all Federal
elections and would provide financial inducements to the States to
adopt the post card registration system and the proposed 30-day
residency requirement for voting in State and local elections, as well
as Federal elections. Fraud prevention teams would have been pro-
vided for to operate in each State with local election officials.

S. 352 the new bill introduced by Senator McGee contains many of
the same provisions. The title of the bill has been changed and would
be known as the Voter Registration Act. In addition, the name of the
agency to administer the bill would be simply the Voter Registration
Administration. The detailed provisions with respect to the matters
to be included on the registration forms to be delivered through the
mail would be left largely to be worked out by the Voter Registration
Administration rather than spelled out in the bill, as was the case
in S. 2574.

Like S. 2574 in the last Congress, S. 352, while providing Federal
machinery to encourage and assist voter registration is designed, as
we see it, to build upon and improve the State and local registration
and voting laws. Substantial changes in the direction of facilitating
voters registration and lifting unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions
on the right to vote have been made in the laws of many States in the
last 2 years. 'VVliile the Congress by constitutional amendment and
the courts by their decisions have given great encouragement to this
development, the work the States have done themselves along these
lines should not go unnoticed. The bill expressly recognizes these
developments, and rightly so. This is the right approach, we be-
lieve, and you are to be congratulated for adopting such an approach.

Unfortunately, the bill omits provisions, which were included in S.
2574, to guarantee a residency requirement for registration no longer
than 30 days for voting in Federal elections and to encourage adop-
tion of a residency requirement no longer than 30 days for voting in
State and local elections.

Extending a residency requirement of no more than 30 days to con-
gressional elections, and providing financial assistance to States which
bring their laws into line with Federal residency requirements would
make sure that the franchise is broadened for many who still are
denied the vote by arbitrary State restrictions on resistration. "We be-
lieve provisions along these lines should be included in S. 352, just as
they were included in S. 2574 in the last Congress.

Another area where voting restrictions should be scrutinized is that
of absentee i-egistration and voting. Under the Voting Rights Act of
1970, applications for absentee ballots in presidential elections must
be accepted up to 7 days before the election, and ballots must be ac-
cepted up to the time ithe polls close. In 1970 nine States had more
restrictive deadlines for absentee ballot requests, ranging from eight
to thirty days before the election. Eleven states provided that ab-



164

sentee ballots must be received the day before the election. In this
area, too, some improvements have been made, but we still have the
problem of different standards applying in Federal elections, on
the one hand, and State and local elections, on the other. We think
uniform standards are needed not only for registration practices and
residency requirements, but also for absentee registration and voting.

We also feel there is a need to improve current administrative prac-
tices, particidarly in recordkeeping and the printing of election data.

As we pointed out in our testimony before this comjnittee 2 years
ago, cmnbersome ledger looks have been replaced by magnetic tapes in
many areas and States, allowing records to be kept current through vi-
tal statistical data provided by various agencies. On the basis of the
data in the computer files, official lists of registered voters can be made
readily available to local election officials, and with less expense and a
higher degree of accuracy.

Such standardized and centralized computer systems have facili-
tated the labor closing dates for registration which, as we havB urged
above, should be provided for and, we believe, have substantially re-
duced the opportunities for illegal and fraudulent practices in regis-
tration and voting. Data processing can be the watchdog to prevent
the legally unqualified from voting.

Wliere laws encourage voter participation, make registration easy
and permit registration close to election day, registration and voter
participation can be increased substantially. Where laws inliibit voter
participation, make registration inconvenient, and shut off registra-
tion long before election day — as many do — registration and voter
participation tend to be low.

We believe it is essential for the Congress to initiate now a truly
serious national effort to establish standards that make registration and
voting easy in all elections. The AFLr-CIO believes that in our democ-
rac.y all citizens should have the opportunity and should, in fact, take
part in selection of the public officials who make the decisions that affect
their lives. This process of selection is performed in the voting booth.

It is the right to vote that most distinguishes democracy from dic-
tatorship. Whatever limits it blurs this more important distinction.

The Chairman. Thank you very much for that statement. The AFL-
CIO has always been way out; front on efforts of voter registration,
and the experiences that you have garnered from these efforts makes
your input at this time particularly valuable and to the point.

I think it might be in order to observe here that as you referred to
the omissions from our bill this year in contrast to last year, that the
reason for those omissions was the Blum stein decision by the Supreme
Court which in effect removed the residency provisions from conten-
tion in Federal elections. So that is the explanation.

Now in your judgment that still is not tight enough, and we need to
legislate its tightness, that is one of the things we want to have a look
at.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. Senator, we still think it would be desirable to in-
clude it, because the decision used the 30-day rule applicable to presi-
dential elections simply as an example; when you are trying, as you
are, to make it clear that you want to get States to follow the Federal
model, I think it is important that the model itself be spelled out in the
bill.



165

The Chairman. I am caught between two Andy's, Andy Biemiller
and Andy Manatos who is behind me here. Andy Manatos reminds me
that the interpretation of the decision was that it was all inclusive as a
decision. Again we cannot leave that in limbo, so we have to have an-
other court case to spell it out.

Mr. Biemiller. Exactly. Furthermore, some of our counsel at least
feel that it would be helpful to make sure that the same rules apply to
both State and Federal elections.

The Chairman. According to this summary of the case, which the
decision was handed down I think 7 days after our bill was defeated by
two or three votes, which was ironical in itself, it simply says that the
durational residence requirements are violative — any duration resi-
dence requirements are violative of equal protection clause of the 14th
amendment.

That would still, I am sure, be subject to some variables and inter-
pretation.

Mr. Biemiller. We just think of our proposal as a safeguard.

The Chairman. We want to have another look at that and perhaps
tighten that up, but we will put our heads together on that as we
approach it.

What has been your experience of any other gaps that we cannot
touch with this kind of legislation as far as getting people to register
to vote ? You have a world of experience on that.

Mr. Biemiller. Well as you know, the situation varies so much from
one State to another.

Let me, on the positive side, for example, point out — and I think
I am correct on this — that in the State of Idaho, where registration is
permitted up to the Saturday before election, the eligible voters in
Idaho also run consistently about 10 percent above the national aver-
age. So the fact that you can register late in that State has been
helpful.

In other areas, where there have been devices that were really in-
tended to cut down on registration, we have been successful in some
cases in getting those obstacles straightened out. We are worried about
the situation you have in some States where you still have to go to the
courthouse or to city hall or one spot in the county or city in order to
register.

We have been breaking that down in some areas. I will give you
my own home city of Milwaukee as an example. "When I was first
active in politics out there in the 1930's, my registrant had to go or be
taken to city hall. It was the only place anybody could register in the
city of Milwaukee. If a girl got married, between elections, for exam-
ple, she had to go down and register all over again.

Believe me, we would get some arguments every now and then
on that kind of thing, as you can imagine. At the same time, how-
ever, in Milwaukee, we did in those days have a modified post card
system, so that if you changed your address between elections, all
you had to do was send in a post card and say "I used to live on 11th
Street and now I live on Brown Street'- with the number.

I think this is essentially the kind of thing you are talking about.

The Chairman. Ours would catch that up every 2 years.



166

Mr. BiEMiLLER. I remember, as an example, the first time I ran for
the le^slature, an area that had about 48,000 people living in it. We
picked up 2,400 change of address cards in that comparatively small
area. If we had not been able to do that with change of address cards,
we would have had quite a time getting those 2,400 people to city hall
and back.

The Chairman. I can verify that doul^ly by my Christmas card
list. The number that came back or "no such address" or "addressee
moved", whatever it is, was very discouraging,

Mr. BiEMiLLER. In Milwaukee they have partly opened the thing
up. There are certain periods of time when fire houses, school libraries,
and similar public institutions are open in the evening as well as dur-
ing the day for registration. In the old days you had to go during the
day.

The Chairman. We still have not matched the supermarkets where
they are open until midnight and open Saturdays and Sundays. We
may have to turn this over to supermarkets.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. What we are really trying to get at through your
post card system is the ease of registration.

The Chairman. Exactly. What we are seeking to do is to remove
an impediment and likewise an alibi in many cases — in many cases it
is only an alibi. They become our problem cases after the fact. But you
could not get at that until you get these obstructions out of the way.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. We are delighted that you are pushing this legisla-
tion. We are convinced it can be passed.

The Chairman. I think the prospects are very good.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. I do, too.

The Chairman. Last year it was caught up in the bind of an election
year. One side was sure the other side was trying to run in more votes
to win an election, and there were not that many votes around last year
that could all have been run in and made any difference. The other side
certainly gave the appearance they were trying to pull this off, to try
to win an election they thought they could not win. It was an unfortu-
nate circumstance.

It was motivated on the part of some individuals, only coincidentally
Senators, who had no other interest in it. except to try to ring a bell in
November. It is too bad it had that kind of motivating base. This is a
citizenship voting responsibility piece of legislation that has nothing
to do with Republicans and Democrats as partisans. It has to do with
the voters' responsibility in their citizenship role.

I want to stress that with you again, stressed it yesterday, that it is
not enough to say that this is an issue of voting rights. Somehow we
have to get this sharpened so that it insures voting responsibility.

Now one of the things that is not in the bill, it is only upstairs here
that I am inclined to think has some possible dimensions being in-
cluded, is to make this a responsibility in the legislation, just as we
make filing an income tax a responsibility, even if you do not have to
pay the tax, or you get your money back that was withheld. You still
have to file the return. That would mean that you would be required
at the risk of penalty to vote, that is to cast a ballot. You do not have
to vote as long as you sign your ballot. If you are mad at everybody,
you do not want anybody that is on the ticket, you at least sign your



167

ballot and turn it in in order to avoid a penalty. Then you get voter
participation, and there are no alibis.

I still think there may be an area there which we are leaving out that
we ought to include. I think we have gone all too long in the area of
just sitting by and waiting for the good guys to be good citizens.

Let me turn it around the other way. The concern has been expressed
here — I gestured over here, and I will gesture up here (indicating) —
it was not just these giiys, who raised last year the great specter of
fraud. But the philosopher would have to ask, which is the greater
fraud ? Keeping people from voting is as much a fraud as the kind of
things they have dreamed up that might be fraudulent, though we have
no record of them having occurred, preventing groups from voting in
these times, in my judgment is a flagrant case of fraud, and that is the
kind of fraud we ought to be addressing ourselves to in this particular
legislation.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. I remember — I \Till not name the state, it would not
be quite fair — but I remember a State that at one time held annual
elections for its legislature and required the voter to register for every
election. Very frankly, in parts of that State that was designed to keep
the vote down, the effect was that only the official political machinery
got its vote out.

I agree with you — I think that it is a fraud on democracy — when
you purposely go out of your way to keep the vote down.

The Chairman. We worry about how some group or somebody is
going to vote. Maybe he is not very well informed. Welcome to the club.
If that becomes criteria, I would only trust myself to vote. And I am
not sure I trust you, because you are doing other things, and you have
not really analyzed these particular voters. You do not dare to permit
that to be injected as a factor, if you really believe in what we have
held up to the rest of the world as our example on "free elections"
which is the thing we have invented for use in other parts of the
world in our rhetoric, but we do not always apply it here at home.

Sometimes we seem to be deliberate in bypassing it here at home.
So I think it is time we take this very small step, and indeed it is a
small step, to keep pushing us toward an ultimate participation.

I would like to see that day when that particular participation is
at least as important as paying your taxes. I think it is more important,
but at least as important.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. I could not agree more.

The Chairman. Thank you very much. We will be back again pick-
ing your brains over the variety of experiences that you have had.

Mr. BiEMiLLER. We will be happy to confer with you and your staff
at any time.

The Chairman. The next witness is Mr. Randall B. Wood, former
director of elections for the State of Texas.

We are specially interested this morning in what you can tell us,
Mr. Wood, in regard to the experiences in Texas. Texas at any tim.e is
always a controversial issue in whatever question you are exploring.
Somehow we always manage to involve Texas in it, and usually Texas
is involved in it. So we will be doubly interested in your comments.



168

STATEMENT OF RANDALL B. WOOD, FORMER DIRECTOR OF
ELECTIONS FOR THE STATE OF TEXAS

Mr. Wood. First of all I would like to thank the committee for the
opportunity of appearing before it.

My name is Randall B. Wood. I was director of elections for the
office of secretary of the State of Texas until last Octo)3er. During my
tenure as director of elections I was responsible for the administra-
tion of Texas election laws, including voter registration.

I would like to make it clear that although my principal purpose
here is to give you some information concerning the Texas voter regis-
tration system, which is almost identical to S. 352 in some respects. I
want to give you a background of the Texas experience with voter reg-
istration, and then go into the operational aspects of a voter registra-
tion system by mail, which I understand is one of the principal objec-
tions to your legislation.

First of all, Texas began voter registration in the form a poll tax.
Many States had a poll tax but they had a separate voter registration
system. Texas in 1909 began using a poll tax system linked with voter
registration similar to the system that many Southern States utilized.

The Chairman. What you are telling us is that it was to prevent
some voting, rather than encourage voting ?

Mr. Wood. Yes; in the Texas constitution the poll tax was actually
intended to be a head tax. It did not have anything to do with voting,
but about 1909 I believe they started making it a requirement to pay
the DoU tax in order to vote.

This obviously limited participation by certain groups. It was only
about 75 cents at the time, but that was extremely expensive in those
days.

in 1941 the pressure of the public had built up — prior to 1941, you
had to pay your poll tax by going to the county seat of your county and
paying the poll tax. And the public pressure built up for easy access to
voter registration. In 1941 it was amended to allow you to mail in your
poll tax on a form which was really nothing more than a voter regis-
tration application. This is the root of the Texas voter registration sys-
tem by mail.

What happened was that the system continued until about 19fi(i — in
fact in 1965 there was a Federal court case. United States v. Texas^ in
which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the poll tax,
which was later affirmed bv the IT.S. Supreme Court.

This resulted in Texas having a registration system by mail, which
was an annual system. The poll tax was paid annually. You had an
annual registration system. You had to reregister each year.

When the poll tax" was struck down in 1965, the legislature met in
snecial session in 1966 and enacted a voter registration system, without
the poll tax, but it was actually like the poll tax system, but it was an
annual system by mail.

I will go into detail in a moment.

In 1970 the whole annual system of voter registration wns challenged
in court and a three-judge Federal panel finally ended our annual
voter registration system in Texas. The time had come to end it any-
way. I think the legislature was about on the verge of ending the an-
nual svstem itself.



169

The annual system was blatantl^y used to reduce voter participation,
and it did so to a irreat extent. Even with the voter registration by
mail, our participation in Texas elections, by percentage of eligible
A'otors over 21, was tlie lowest among the 10 metropolitan States. In
fact it was one of the lowest in the Nation. Even some of the other
Southern States, which in the past had discouraged voter registration,
had better voter participation records than did Texas.

The CiiAiRMAx. To reemphasize the point you made, the reason for
the low participation was because it was done by mail, because it was
a poll tax device

Mr. Wood. It would have been absolutely impossible on an annual
system if it had not been done by mail. We also did not have any
roving deputies in Texas, it was all by mail.

We were forced into registration by mail system because of annual
voter registration requirements. In 1971 the legislature met and passed
a permanent or continuing voter registration system that is comparable
to most States, California, and so forth, where you reregister by voting.
In that law. we once again carried over the registration by mail. The
reason we did was that Texas has had experience from 1941 to 1971
with registration by mail system, and the old bugaboo of fraud simply
could not be raised in Texas very well because the experience over
those 30 years had generally disproved that registration by mail was
anymore susceptible to fraud than any other registration system.

I would say this, we have fraud in Texas elections. In fact Texas
does not have a particularly good record insofar as election fraud is
concerned. I want to make it clear that that is not due to the reeistra-
tion system. Fraud is induced into the election system by election offi-
cials, and that can happen as easily with personal registration
systems as it can with registration by mail.

Let me give you some backgi-ound on how the voter registration
by mail system works in Texas. After it was allowed in 1941, the voter


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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. Senate. Committee on PostVoter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 → online text (page 16 of 28)