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

. (page 17 of 28)
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 17 of 28)
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registration forms at that time were poll tax forms, were rather
complicated. They required a lot of infomiation.

Through the years the amount of information that was required by
the voter registration application which was to be mailed to the
registrar was reduced continuously until the present voter registration
form can easily be placed on a post card. It contains the name, address,
sex, short statement, and so forth.

The Chairman. Carried in coupon form ?

Mr. Wood. Well, I was interested in Mr. Biemiller's statements. In
Texas, of course, under annual registration system, it forced you to
become very ingenious in your methods of getting voter registration
applications distributed. Therefore, voter registration application
forms are run in newspapers, are carried around in people's pockets
on the street.

You mentioned super markets a while ago. In almost any super
market you can pick up a form, since you can mail it in, you can do it
at any hour of the day or night. This was really a necessity because of
the annual voter registration requirement.

Since you had to reregister every year, it would have continuously
depressed the voter registration if we had not had voter registration
by mail.


The system we have in Texas is sort of an accident, but it is an acci-
dent that works. It do not think there is any doubt about it. It is begin-
ning to work much better now since we have a reregistration by voting
system instead of an annual system. But the problems with fraud and
so forth have actually been reduced under a permanent system with

registration by mail

The Chairman. Say that again, please. Reduced in what way ?
Mr. Wood. Well, first of all voter registration fraud or fraud induced
voter registration system is successful only insofar as the election offi-
cial or registrar, either is unable to check, or simply because he does
not choose to check his voter registration date; in other words, fails
to purge his registration rolls periodically.

If tile registrar does the job properly, if he is given the amount of
money he needs and the amount of time that he needs, voter registra-
tion fraud can be held to a minimum. It makes no difference whether
it is by mail or in person or whether you have to go to the courthouse.
The Chairman. One of the suggestions made to this committee last
year was in the Dallas Morning News that if you can register by
coupon, you can also register by a form handed out on a street corner,
then you are aiding and abetting the chances for fraud.

However, your point is, as I understand it, if you dropped thoTn
from airplanes and let them fall on everybody's front yard, it is still
irrelevant. The real check is by the appropriate office or official when
the completed form is received by mail.

Mr. Wood. I would go even further to suggest that how the form
is distributed and who fills it out and so forth is almost irrelevant to
fraud in the election system. I am sure that many States who have
never experienced this type of system— I am sure you can dream up
a lot of horribles by voter registration by mail. I have heard some of
them by reading some former reports out of this committee. They
simply do not occur. They do not happen.

The Chairman. They happen only in the floor of the Senate m

Mr. Wood. I am not saying that we have not had some instances of
voter registration fraud. I think a couple years ago when I was
director of elections, someone got out of the State hospital and got
about 50 forms and filled them out with different names and different
addresses and mailed them in. That was discovered in a couple of
weeks. But those type of things are few and far between.

The voter does not induce fraud into the election system. Fraud
is induced into the election system, and I believe this is the case
anywhere, it is induced into the election system by election officials and
those persons responsible for voter registration system. You do not
affect that whether you do it by mail, or whether you do it in person
or so on. If the election officials are involved or interested in inducing
fraud into the system, they will do it.

The Chairman. They already do it. You do not have to vote by mail
if you are going to have that kind of circumstance, if you are going
to introduce fraud.

Mr. Wood. In Texas, we have some voter irregularities, as we are
accustomed to calling them, which amount to nothing more than voter
fraud. They are not a result of our registration by mail system. They
are not a result of registration violations. They are the result of col-


lusion of election officials, either at the polling place or by the registrar

The whole idea is that — well you mentioned a person would be aiding
or abetting a fraud by handing out a voter registration certificate.
There is nothing magic about that piece of paper. There is nothing
whatsoever magic about it, and in Texas the whole way we look at
it is obviously different than other States. We do not sign the thing
under oath.

I can take this piece of paper, and I can put the relevant information
that is required. I have the Texas election law that would give you
what is required, name, age, sex and so forth and sign it and mail it
in. It would not have to be a form necessarily. It is not generally done,
but it is possible under Texas law, and it would be acceptable as voter

The whole idea that somehow if you are not watched over when this
is mailed in is going to prevent fraud is ludicrous. The person that
mails this — incidentally this is an area where I agree with you that
the fraud involved in Texas generally is through the control of voter
registration, not allowing everybody to register, or controlling it
to a certain group or in a certain manner so that it can be utilized
effectively on election day. It does not have anything to do with the
fact that more people who are registered, the more that are registered
the moT'e difficult it is to really induce fraud in an election.

The Cttairmax. That is a good point.

Mr, Wood. The more bi'oad based your electorate, the less likely
that a collusion among certain group of election officials is going to
have the ability to change the outcome of any one election. The larger
your turnout, the more difficult fraud is — •actually it is a deterent to
fraud, because it makes the possibility of your being able to change
the outcome of an election much less.

The Ctiairmax. Good point.

Mr. Wood. This is extremely obvious in some elections in Texas
where until recently you had — say, the chances of running in multiple
districts, trying to induce change of outcome in any election, where
there are 200,000 voters voting on one person in much more difficult
if there are only 10,000 people voting for that individual.

I could go into detail in how our system works. S. 352 if enacted
would not even be noticed in Texas as far as I can tell. I was familiar
with the legislation introduced last term, last year. We have absentee
registration and we have absentee voting up to 4 days before the elec-
tion. Actually I can say the register in Texas would never know that
the bill had been enacted.

The Chairman. He would not blink his eye ?

Mr. Wood. He would never even realize it. The only thing is it would
not have an impact in Texas because where a person registers, he
registers for all offices not Federal offices only, and he does it in the
same manner of this legislation, and for all practical purposes we have
been registering this way for 30 years.

The Chairman. You used to cut off registration much earlier, like
in January, as early as that ?

Mr. Wood. Yes.


The Chairman. Wliich again was another crime. But that is no
longer the case in Texas?

Mr. Wood. No. Just since 1970 we have gone from one of the more
archaic systems to I suppose one of the more open systems in the
country. I do not Imow of any system that is as easy to register as it
is in Texas. Now we have a problem which I think I would like to
mention here, which I think is relevant to your whole case.

Kegistering and voting is a habit. People who are not in the habit
of registering, for whatever reason, and voting, are less likely to
register and vote in the future. It is a tradition.

In Texas we prevented for such a long period of time many people
from registering, that it is going to take a long time for us to instill
that habit into large numbers of our citizens, especially low-income
citizens, because of the poll tax and so forth, low income and minority
groups. They were prevented or suppressed for such a long period of
time that the whole idea of voter registration was foreign. Once voter
registration is made easier even mandatory, et cetera, as you mentioned,
the person tends to vote more because he is registered, not because he
simply has the opportunity to go to vote. Something gets in his mind
that he feels he ought to do, that he is in the habit of doing. It is one
reason why certain groups in Texas have long opposed extending the
franchise. 'Wien they were in the habit, they turned out, they always
turned out. But for the other people the impediments were placed in
their way, and they did not register regularly and they never really
got in the habit of votinsf. Even though Texas has changed from an
annual system to a reregistration by voting system in the last 2 years
and even though our voter registration jumped tremendously since
1971 by a factor of a third, we still are not getting the type of turnout
and registration that we should get, simply because in the past we
have placed so many impediments on the voters that it is going to
take a long time to build the voting habit. It will take us a while
to get to where I feel we ought to be, which is somewhere around 80
percent registered.

The Chairman. Let me ask you an obvious question there. Would
your secretary of state or whoever will be in charge blink his eye
if we had a mandatory ballot casting with penalty for failure, much
like the income tax ? In other words, what problems would that pose ?

Mr. Wood. First of all, I could not comment for the secretary of
state that is in office at the present time.

The Chairman. Wlioever is in charge.

Mr. Wood. I am a little confused if you mean mandatory registra-
tion, where a person would be automatically registered — well it can
be done many ways. I think Mr. Biemiller mentioned the Idaho regis-
tration is considered to be a function of the State, not a function of
the individual.

It is the responsibility of the State to make sure the person is regis-
tered. This is quite common in western Europe and some other places
where the State takes it on itself to see that you are registered. I am
sure there has been much testimony before this committee that con-
cerning Southern States voter registration was not enacted originally
to prevent fraud. In some northern metropolitan States I am sure that
was a factor involved. In the Southern States registration was linked


to the poll tax, was almost always a method to reduce voter participa-
tion. Fraud was really not a consideration.

The history is quite clear, especially in Texas, that fraud was never
really considered. Up until 196G in Texas, if you were over 65, you
did not have to register at all. You could go down and vote. That was
just an aberration in the law, if you were over 65 you went down and
voted, and we in many cases voted more than 100 percent on the rolls,
of course. We did not find that fraud was induced in the over 65

I have lobbied before the Texas legislature. My legislation many
times gets caught up in all the horribles that can be imagined. It is
difficult to prove in many instances, I am sure from your point of
view, that these horribles will not occur. Thirty years of experience
m Texas of voter registration by mail indicates that those horribles
simply do not occur.

I am sure we have many intelligent people in Texas who would like
to reduce fraud in the election system as in any other State. Where
we have fraud, it is always traceable to the election official and to
collusion between election officials and candidates. I could point to
hundreds of places, but it is not due to the fact of voter registration by
mail, and even — I think probably more importantly — it would not be
prevented or restricted seriously or any at all as far as I can tell by
abolishing voter registration system by mail in Texas.

The Chairman. I gather your conclusion is that whatever the
device, if we had mandatory registration in Federal election, with a
penalty, just registration, that that would have a material effect on
increasing the percentage of voter participation ?

Mr. Wood. Any time that a person is capable of walking in a polling
place and voting, he is more likely to exercise that right. The more
he exercises the franchise, the more times he votes, the more likely
he is to continue voting.

There have been some studies in this particular area. There is no
doubt that once a person starts voting, gets in the habit, that he goes
and votes year in and year out more than the people who vote infre-
quently. In fact people who have voted consistently between the ages
of 21 and 35 continues a voting history completely throughout their
life that is relatively consistent. Those people who do not vote between
the ages of 21 and 35 have a sporadic voting history throughout their

It is completely related to the habit of participating in the electoral

I do not want to get philosophical about it, but I consider it an
extremely important function of government, to try to involve as many
people as it can in the electoral process. If they are not involved, they
do not vote. If they vote, they tend to become more involved.

The Chairman. How serious is the problem of mail registration
because of illegible handwriting ?

Mr. Wood. We do have some problems with it ; but after working
with it for 30 years, with registrars, and we have 254 counties in
Texas — I am sure that no other State has any sort of county units ap-
proaching that number

91-577—73 12


The Chairman. We have that problem with some presidents, illegi-
ble handwritino;.

Mr. Wood. Yes. What I was going to say is that in all those county-
units there is a registrar and so forth, and those problems of illegible
handwriting coming in on the voter registration forms, generally you
can make out an address, and if it is so illegible that you cannot read
it or something, the registrar will turn around and mail that form
back and says to have this form filled out and do a better job.

But it is an insignificant problem. It is not one which causes major
problems. I have never had a registrar complain to me because he was
severely hampered, because he had too many people that could not
write well.

If the people want to bring ud horribles, we have an even stranger
law on the books in Texas that allows someone else to register for you.
T am sure you can dream up all sorts of horribles for that. You can
have an agent rerrister for you. Your mother, father, sister, brother,
so forth, can mail in the registration form for you. This also grew
out of the poll tax idea. If people lived at home in rural areas, the
father sat down and filled the form out and registered the entire
family, that was the idea of it. Although I do not think it is particu-
larly good practice, it has not caused us any problems as far as fraud
is concerned. We do have some problems with a son registering in
collep-e and the mother registering him at home. But that is usually
quickly cleared up.

The Chatrman. T think that is all the questions I have at this time.
The kind of experience that you have been through in Texas reflects
the sort of experiences that do constitute specters in the mind of people
up here in the Senate, who do conjure up these horrors, they probably
watch TV too much. They went to see "Deliverance" or whatever it was.

Mr. Wood. Let me say in closin<T that T have a sincere doubt that ariy
other State is going to be in really different position than Texas. We
are a metropolitan State. We are a rural State.

The Chairman. You have got the sweep of all kinds of problems
that could arise plus the fact that it is Texas, which is a unique prob-
lem all of its own.

Mr. Wood. We have that large minority population, and we have
the election problems. I would suggest to you that our voter registra-
tion fraud problems are probably much less than some other States
that I have had the opportunity of studying.

The CiiAinMAN. Nobody ever really discovered Texas, but I always
have to confess, I have spoken in 104- different Texas towns, so in a
very small way that does not befrin to cover the counties of Texas,
to get a sense of what Texas is all about. You have made a very con-
structive contribution.

Mr. Wood. I thank you. If you have any other questions, I will be
glad to answer them.

The Chairman. We will have more questions, and we will pick your
brains on them.

Mr. Wood. Thank you.

The Chairman. Thank you very much.

The next witness is Mr. Penn Kimball, professor at the Graduate
School of Journalism, Columbia University.



Mr. Kimball. My name is Penn Kimball. I am a professor at the
Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia Univei-sity.

I am here largely as a result of the fact that I have spent nearly 2
years trying to take a hard look at the American voter registration sys-
tem. The findings of this study are summarized in a book that was re-
cently published by the Columbia University Press. It is called "The
Disconnected." A copy of the book and a release summarizing its main
findings are in the possession of you and the committee.

The CiLiiRMAX. Your statement will be made a part of the record,
and you can address yourself to the highlights as you see them.

Mr. Kimball. As I say, I have placed a summary of the findings in
Tour possession. But in the light of the testimony that has gone before,
I would like to make some points that I think might be worthwhile.
There is very little hard inf oi-mation, interestingly enough, about why
people are registered and not registered. It is one of the reasons I be-
came interested in it.

I first became interested out of my own campaign experience. Any-
one who has been involved, as you have been, in running for office,
you know that the matter of voter registration becomes a very vital
concern to any candidate for public office. Candidates often spend a
great deal of money and effort on it. My experience has been that re-
sults are usually largely disappointing.

The Chairman. I think there is something I can inject there. The
most deeply I ever got involved in a registration drive was in 1960 in
the State of Wyoming. We did, had more bodies, spent more money
getting people registered as a good civic duty. Wyoming voted more
than 2 to 1 for a candidate that I was not supporting in 1960. They
voted for Mr. Nixon instead of Mr. Kennedy.

It is naive or it is even regressive to think of it in terms that you
register in order to get more votes for your guy. That ought not to be
the incentive.

Mr. Kimball. The first thing I tried to do in this particular study
was to evaluate privately sponsored voter registration drives across
the country, trade unions, for example

The Chairman. League of Women Voters ?

Mr. Kimball. League of Women Voters. The full range of voter
registration drives, and during election situations. I was in Cleveland
when Mayor Stokes was running for mayor, and I was in New York
City when John Lindsay was running for mayor, and I was in Newark
when Mr. Gibson was running for mayor. I was in Texas during the
senatorial primary there, studying live and in action the attempts of
citizens of good will trying to enlarge the voting rolls through a
system which places the primary initiative on the individual, to thread
his way throusfh our bureaucracy and institutional obstacles, to become
qualified for the most basic right of citizenship, the right to cast a

To oversimplify, I would have to say most of the voter registration
drives that I have obseiwed have been failures. One of the best of
;them happened to be in Texas, run by Frontlash, an organization con-


sisting largely of young people and which gets some support from
trade unions. In terms of voter registration know-how, they do as
good a job as you will find. But the results achieved by Frontlash in
San Antonio, Tex., were very disappointing. Fundamentally, most of
these voter registration drives hit a plateau. "VAHien they get between
60 and 70 percent of the eligible adults on the voting rolls, they sort
of hang there. So we have a national situation now where year in and
year out 30 percent of our population is never reached by even the
best of voter registration drives. So that we have a situation such as
we had in 1972 when 40 million Americans were not even registered.
That is an appalling number, when you start to think of it, 40 million
who are not part of the process of electing a President. No matter
what action they might want to take in the final week of a campaign,
there was no way, just no way that they could cast a ballot.

If the system is not working, and I say that our present system of
individual voter registration is not working, and if private attempts
to try to make it work, however well intentioned, however well orga-
]iized. do not do the job. then it would seem to me that we are in a
situation now where we have got to take a new tack.

In "The Disconnected" I tried to study people of the same back-
ground and the same general conditions in life, some of whom were
registered to vote and some of whom were not registered, to try to
isolate what made the difference. You run into some very interesting

The general facts about voting registration are familiar. If you went
to college, you are probably on a voting list. There is a high correlation
between high levels of education and voter registration, although there
are a substantive number of college educated people in the United
States who do not register to vote. One wonders why that came to be.

In Newark I tried to go systematically among blacks, Puerto Ricans,
and whites, who were being solicited to register to vote in a campaign
for mayor matching Kenneth Gibson, a black, against Hugh Addo-
nizio, an Italian-Ainerican. You had a highly polarized, supposedly
intensely interested electorate.

You had a pretty good chance to separate the involved and con-
nected people from the disconnected people in a situation of that kind.
You would go into the central ward of Newark, into the slum tenement
area. There people were living in exactly the same housing conditions
and with the same family background. Yet some would be registered
and some would not be registered.

Now in terms of the registration process, you immediately run into
very interesting situations. People on the first floor may tend to be reg-
istered while people on the third and fourth floors and above are not
registered. Anyone who has been involved in a campaign knows that
when you send out canvassers, they sometimes run out of gas on the
stairs between the first floor and the second floor and the third floor.

The Chairman. Having lived on the third floor, I appreciate that

INIr. Kimball. You will find a family, for example, where the mother
has a teenage daughter who can baby sit with the smaller children
while the mother takes time off to go down and register. The mother
who does not have that teenage child does not get registered under the


present system, although other factors that one can see are absolutely

What I tried to do there was to conduct an attitude study of both the
registered and the unregistered persons. Now there is very little data
on this sort of thing.

I used the field staff of the Harris organization. I am a consulting
editor of the Harris Poll. During elections what the pollsters tend to do
is throw out from their interviews anybody who is unregistered,
because the nonregistered are not interesting to someone who is trying
to analyze what is going on in an actual election situation. When the
pollsters go out in a community and begin screening people they are
going to interview, if someone is not registered, they pass him by
and do not inten'iew him. If you did interview him, this could cor-
rupt your findings in trying to analyze how the actual vote might go.

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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 17 of 28)