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 18 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 18 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

You do not find very many surveys around of unregistered voters.

I had a sample drawn in Newark, which included and left in both the
registered and unregistered, and addressed a series of questions to both
sets of people so that we had a full bank of information of people living
in the same town, in similar circumstances, some registered and some
unregistered, to try to isolate what the differences were.

The Chairman. Did it show any meaningful difference between
what the poll Avould show of those only registered and what it would
show if you threw in the unregistered that were samples?

Mr. Kimball. If people were not registered now, and they would
participate in the system, if that is the question

Tlio Titaikman. Suppose they had participated?

Mr. Kimball. If they had participated, the results would have been
different. It would have been different in this particular instance.
There are a lot of theories, and there is a lot of talk about voter aliena-
tion these days — estrangement is probably a better term. Interestingly,
the white voters in Newark were generally more estranged than the
black and Puerto Eican voters. Highly estranged whites in Newark
did not register.

The most powerful factor for not registering turned out to be people
who felt isolated and alone. This is a psychological condition, which
does not have anything to do with moral worth or character, but is
probably a product of the state of urban life as it exists in the 197()'s in
America today. Some people have a personality structure that has just
been hit much harder by those conditions than others, although on every
other count they may be just as well informed about the state of the
world. They really may be just as good citizens as the next person,
but they have a timidity. They have a lack of self-confidence. "When
they have to try to register through the institutional obstacles of an
organized bureaucracy, very often with election officials who are not
verj' sympathetic, in situations that are \erj complicated, people who
are timid in a situation like that tend not to go through with it.

So that generally speaking, if you want to talk about what causes low
registration in the United States, I think you have to look at two
things. On one side you have a motivational problem among certain
kinds of people who are more timid than others, or who live in certain
kinds of personal family circumstances that make it more difficult for
them to be reached by people trying to register voters. On the other side


are all the layers of institutional obstacles to voter re^jistration that
have to be surmounted before someone can get on the voting roll.

In Cleveland, for example, if you lived on the east side, you had to
go way downtown in the middle of town in order to register to vote.
Some of those people had not been downtown in years, and they were
not about to crank themselves up and hire a taxi and take off on some
day that was probably not advertised well in the newspapers, at some
inconvenient hour, to tr\^ to get on a voting roll. You cannot do an
awful lot about weak motivation in registration unless you look at the
total state of the urban climate. There is a relationship between the
state of urban America today and the feeling of disorientation. But
you can do something about the institutional bias of a svstem whicli
screens out anyone who is timid or discouraged over backing that

The Cpiairmax. You have been listening to some of the things that
we were saying here this morninjr in tliis hearing. What would be
your reaction to a legislative mandatory registration on the situation
such as the income tax, on an income tax model. "VAHiat problems would
that pose?

Mr. KiMRALT.. T tend to feel that all forms of democratic partici-
pation should be kept on a voluntary basis. I say that because, I con-
fess to you, because there have been elections in which I have not
voted for contested candidates, and I felt I was exercising a very in-
telligent choice by abstainincr.

The Chatrmax. T think that is part of your freedom. But still to
register and sign a ballot, and say I do not want either one of them,
but at l^ast they are there.

Mr. Ki:>rBALL. Tf vou look at what is going to work, you have got to
have an outreach. There has to be initiative from governm.ent to the
individual citizen to maximize the convenience, to maximize the op-
portunity for that citizen to be on the voting list. Som.e citizens are
reached through tlie mails very well. Others are not. One thing that
worries me about the mail system is if vou walk through the central
city of America and look at the mail boxes in the tenements, they
are pulled off the wall sometimes. It is not a society that lives by the
postal service to a great extent.

I am afraid vou are going to miss a great number of Americans
with a post card mailing who have to be reached by door-to-door can-

The Chatrmax. Some of it mav never arrive.

INIr. KiMBAT.L. That is right. Welfare checks do not always arrive..

The Chairman. Tf I may say so, if you had a mandatory registra-
tion ballot signin.f. it addrpsses its'^lf to the two kinds of p'roups that
you have described here. The one that savs I make an intelligent vote
when I do not vote in some instances. That person would only si<rn
a ballot without marking X in front of anybody's name. But he still
has gone to the polls as a responsibility and demonstrated his iudg-
ment. But you also wr>uV1 then cover. wouVl yon not. that other large
group that because of all of these other impediments did not go to
the polls, and thus under this at least would be there; and if he chose
to vote by selecting a candidate, would be in a position to do so.

Do you not protect both sides of that


Mr. Kimball. I come back to the word "mandatory." The presump-
tion of mandatory is that voter registration is low because people are
not doing their duty. That is not what you find out when you study
the matter. You find out that people have various levels of doing their
duty, that large numbers of people are not registered in the tlnited
States because a particular system is too oppressive in terms of their
level of motivation. The system is also very unequal across the country,
which is another thing that I think we ought to be concerned about.
There is a lot of interest in national primaries and the direct election
of presidents, and we decide more and more of our public business
by referendum these days.

On a State-by-State basis, under the present system of voter regis-
tration, there are very significant differences of opportunity for Amer-
ican citizens to participate in that kind of participatory democracy.

I think that the government has to take the initiative, not neces-
sarily create a large bureaucracy to do it, but to create incentives at
the local level.

You are aware, I am sure, that the National Municipal League has
written a model statute which is being circulated in all 50 States now
for there to be State voter registration administration. Anything that
can be done at the Federal level to give States financial incentives or
to provide them with models to work from would be excellent.

The Chairman. Our experience up here I think is pretty flagrant
if we turn to the States for voluntary action on anything. It is so un-
even. They hide behind so many excuses that all we are doing is putting
off addressing ourselves to the question in realistic tenns.

Mr. Kimball. I would agree with that.

The Chairmax. We hope to refine that. I do not think that is an
extreme generalization of it. I think those are the hard facts of our
experience. States are not going to do it.

Mr. Kimball. I think one interesting thing about the 1972 election
was the experience with the new 18- to 21-year-old9 first time voters.

As you know there was a great deal of conversation about what a
great significant move this was in American life, and e^^en certain poli-
tical candidates who shall be nameless thought that this was going to
revolutionize the electorate perhaps in their own favor. I find it very
discouraging that the lowest rate of voter registration continues to be
among the very young.

Tlie Chairman. In that group ?

Mr, Kimball. That is very serious from everything one has learned
in politics; namely, that if you do not involve them early, you have
trouble getting them to come in later.

We, theoretically, gave the 18-year-old the vote. But of course we did
not give the 18-year-old the vote, because we did not give him a regis-
tration system that would maximize the opportunitj^ for young people
to actually become voters.

The Chairman. Let us go back then to this other central point.
In the face of this very discouraging experience with the yoimg voters,
the new yoimg voters, say we make it mandatory, where do we regress
in the system by requiring that they show up at least sign the fact that
they went to the polls ? They do not have to vote if that is their choice.
They show up. Wliat we have put in there that downgrades the system


or threatens to erode it or dointr something^ else that we ought to really
avoid — we don't want to make the situation worse. We do not want to
have a dictator say, OK. get in there, let us have 99.4 vote for the leader
and 0.6 against. None of that. It is a matter of getting in proximity to
where they can fill out a ballot or reject it. Is that really it?

Mr. Kimball. As you know, many European countries make every
citizen go down to the police station and register every so often. I am
not talking about dictatorships. These are countries like Sweden. I
think that kind of procedure rubs against the American psyche. I do
not think that the notion that you have to go down and do something
in order to be a U.S. citizen would sit very well. I do not feel very-
congenial about it, myself. I would much rather that the Government
knocked on my door as the census taker Iniocks on my door and says,
"Who lives here?'' The Government should get a list of everybody who
lives here and place them automatically on the voting list. You are
automatically on the voting list if you exist. It is the Government's job
to keep that roster of who is who, as the British Government does it,
as the Canadian Government does it.

The Canadians had an election almost at the same tim.e as we did
and their turnout was nearly 20 percent higher. The idea of saying
that you as a citizen shall have to go to this place to register puts the
burden on the individual as our present registration system does to find
that place, to find it at an hour that may or may not be convenient. I
think the initiative should be the other way.

The Chairman. Put a stamped envelope or card in the living room,
as I do when I mail in my income tax.

Mr. Kimball. That is fine. I think right away you would get a pre-
liminary return that would do most of the job. Then I think that very
easily by analysis — because the figures are all available — if you found
that post card registration is falling below certain levels in particular
areas, that there should be an outreach in those areas, door-to-door
canvassing, something to reach people who are not responsive to the
post card approach. Between the two methods you will accomplish it
at the least expense. As we do it now, trying to thread our way
through the registration bureaucracy, the cost is prohibitive. I would
rather see all that money spent on educating the public about the na-
ture of the issues going on in a given election. Let the candidates spend
money in terms of making their positions clear instead of trying to
register voters. Registration drives are just one more thing that make
campaigns so prohibitively expensive. When you get involved in a
registration campaign, there are an awful lot of bucks that have to go
into that, instead of going in to raise the quality of the dialog, if you
will, about the political system.

The Chairman. I think that is all the questions I have right now.
I may have some more a little later.

Mr. Kimball. Thank you very much.

The Chairman. You have given a lot of thought to this.

Mr. Kimball. Anything that is done is important because I think
the time has come. This is the time for there to be a major break-
through in voter registration, and I think your bill and other bills
that are in the Congress should receive very serious attention before
we go too much farther down the pike in a situation where we have
molc> than 40 million Americans not even on the voting list. I think


that is a situation that -we do not want to encourage, and we ought
to move into it right now and particularly among young people.

The Chairmax. Thank you very much for your comments. I can
assure you you will be hearing from us additionally for some further
reflections as w^e refine this legislative endeavor. Thank you very much.

(The aforementioned summary release and editorials follow :)

Highlights of "The Disconnected" — based on a nationwide study of voter


Voting in America "is eumeslied in a spider's web of prior restraints" that
discriminate against tlie nation's poor and minorities, a Columbia University
researcher has found.

The federal government must help by taking the initiative to see that every
eligible voter in the country is registered, declares political analyst Penn Kimball.
Nothing short of this will bring the masses of citizens he calls "the disconnected"
into American political life.

A "combination of institutional barriers and psychological handicaps is usually
too much for the marginal participation in the political process," he writes.

Professor Kimball's findings are based on his nationwide study of voter
registration titled "The Disconnected," published by the Columbia University

The author is a professor in the Columbia University Graduate School of Jour-
nalism whose extensive writings on politics have appeared in newspapers and
magazines and include "Bobby Kennedy and The New Politics," a book published
before the late New York Senator's assassination.

In "The Disconnected," he predicts "no significant improvement in public
participation in the electoral process until the federal government takes the
initiative to qualify eligible voters rather than place the onus upon individuals
thwarted by outmoded state and local regulations.''

His study documents discrimination against blacks and Puerto Ricans in New
York, Newark and Cleveland : Chicanos in Los Angeles and San Antonio ; Indians
in Arizona, and Southern blacks in New Orleans and Atlanta.

The "disconnected," he explains, are people who rarely take part in the
political process. They are "drawn disproportionately from the ranks of the
nation's poor, from ethnic minority groups, from disadvantaged residents of our
largest urban centers."

Why are they unregistered? For a variety of reasons, says Professor Kimball ;
in many instances :

Political organizations control local registration procedures to thwart change.

Individuals lack motivation to register and vote, because of feelings of power-
lessness or a lack of confidence in their political skills.

Registration instructions and procedures are complicated, needlessly.

Registration is cut off too long in advance of election day.

Registration places and hours are inaccessible and inconvenient.

Illiterate or foreign-speaking persons are embarrassed.

Residence requirements are excessive.

In the 1968 Presidential election. 29 million elisrible voters were not registered,
the Columbia professor reports. With the eligibility of 18- to 21-year-olds, large
numbers of which have failed to register, the figure of unregistered voters
for 1972 will exceed 40 million, he says.

A system of universal voter enrollment, with federal responsibility for regis-
tering all persons of voting age, would put the emphasis on government initiative
to enroll voters rather than on individual initiative to get on voter lists, saya
Professor Kimball.

Citing the examples of the British and Canadian universal voter enrollment
programs, he notes that they "have produced turnouts of the potential votina:-age
population in elections for their parliaments approximately fifteen percentage
points higher than turnouts for Presidential elections in the United States."

In 20th-century American Presidential elections, turnout has averaged 59.2
percent of eligible voters.

Under a universal system, the funds now spent by American political parties
on campaigns to register voters could be redirected to educating newly enrolled
voters about issues, candidates and the political process itself, says Professor


Universal registration could l>e effected through the postal service in a post-
card program, through personal visits by teams of federal enrollment officers
to potential voters' homes, or in conjunction with income tax returns. Voters
VFould receive credentials and voting lists would be available for public scrutiny.

States and localities could also conduct their own registration drives with
the offer of federal subsidies if they produced enrollments exceeding 90 percent
of their voting-age populations. Whatever methods were employed to enroll voters,
records would probably be maintained by local jurisdictions for use in both
national and local elections.

Voter lists, Professor Kimball writes, would have to be gathered and posted a
sufficient niimber of days in advance of each election to permit challenges by
interested citizens and verification of their authenticity by local election boards.
Fear of fraud at the polls was one of the original reasons for instituting voting
registration in the United States at the close of the 19th century.

Universal enrollment has been endorsed by the business-oriented Committee
for Economic Development and by the Democratic National Committee. It is cur-
rently under study by the National Municipal League. Bills to establish various
forms of the system have been submitted to Congress by Senators Hubert H.
Humphrey, Edward M. Kennedy and Gale W. McGee. None has succeeded to
date, primarily because of opposition from Republicans and Southern Democrats
who argue that the system would impose too many federal controls on the states
and deprive the states of some of their powers. The plan, however, is due to be
reconsidered after this year's election.

Professor Kimball theorizes that the disappointingly low nationwide registra*
tion of newly enfranchised 18- to 21-year-olds has also been caused by restrictive
local enrollment procedures. He suggests that as a result "the stage will have
been set for a possibly potent lobby" of young people in favor of universal en-*
rollment. "The simplification of voting procedures, like party reforms in the
direction of broader opportunity for participation, is the kind of symbolic issue
that is easy to grasp," he writes. "In the political atmosphere of the seventies an
issue with appeal not only among the young but also among the awakening
minorities throughout the country could sprout into an idea whose time has

[From the Spartanburg, S.C, Herald, Jan. 8, 1973]
NoN-VoTEBS Were Mostly Minority

There were, by Census Bureau estimates, 139 million Americans potentially
eligible to vote in the 1972 presidential election. Of these, 100 million were reg-

Yet only about 76 million voters cast their ballots, or approximately 76 per-
cent of registered voters and only .54..5 per cent of potentially eligible voters.

In other words, 24 million Americans registered but did not bother to vote
and an additional 39 million did not register at all — a total of 63 million Ameri-
cans who, for whatever reasons, did not participate in this most basic function of
•citizenship. The result was that the United States maintained its record of hav-
ing the consistently lowest voter turnout of all the democracies.

There has been much speculation about the whys and wherefores of this
phenomenon. For instance, it has been pointed out that many people did not
like either candidate and cast negative ballots by staying home.

But this has been true in other elections, in lesser or greater degree, and does
not explain the millions who have never qualified to vote in any election.

Among them, according to one student, are substantial numbers of minority
Americans — blacks, Chieanos, Indians, the urban poor — precisely those with the
greatest take in social change.

They don't register partly because of embarrassment, inconvenience and just
plain bureaucratic red tape, alleges Penn Kimball, newsman and professor of
journalism at Colutnbia University, in a recently published book "The Discon-

A feeling of isolation — of "disconnection" — is deeply rooted among ethnic and
racial minorities, says Kimball. He suggests that at least one possible strategy
for changing this situation would be a universal voter registration system run
like the census.

Placing the burden of registration responsibility on the government, he says,
would rescue the would-be voter from deliberate or accidental disenfranchise-
ment and be a step toward connecting him to the democratic process.


[From the Ashland, Ky., Independent, Oct. 24, 1972]
New Registration Approach

Poor turnouts at the polls are a recurrent source of embarrassment in our
democratic society. Each succeeding election reinforces the conclusion that a
lot of people who ought to be voting are not doing so, and that to this extent
representative government is crippled.

This view derives further support from Penn Kimball's new book, "The Dis-
connected," published by the Columbia University Press. Kimball, a Columbia
professor who specializes in political analysis, says the "disconnected" are
the people who take little or no part in the political process. He finds that they
are "drawn disproportionately from the ranks of the nation's poor from ethnic
minority groups, from disadvantaged residents of our largest urban centers."

The author cites various reasons why many people in these categories are not
registered to vote. Political organizations, he notes, often keep tight control on
local registration procedures to forestall change ; instructions and procedures for
registering tend be over-complicated ; residency requirements are a hindrance ;
individuals, feeling powerless or lacking confidence, have slim motivation to
register and vote; registration places and hours frequently are inconvenient;
registration is halted too long before election day ; embarrassment hampers
illiterate or foreign-speaking persons, who shy away from registering.

Professor Kimball offers a broad, general remedy : a system of universal voter
enrollment in which the federal government would take the initiative. The idea,
often advanced before, derives new Impetus from the Kimball studies and con-
clusions. It should be seriously considered by Congress.

The Chairman. The next witness is Mr. Edward Panarello, legisla-
tive director, Retail Clerks International Association.


]\Ir. Paxarello. Mv name is Edward Panarello, I am legislative di-
rector of the Retail Clerks International Association. I appreciate the
opportunity to appear before your committee. Mr. Chairman, on my
right is Mv. James Huntley, field director of the Active Ballot Club.

Mv statement which is brief is being made on behalf of James House-
wrisrht, president of Active Ballot Club, who is out of town.

This committee has already heard considerable testimony about the
many statistics on registration, the horror stories about nonvoting in
many States and many other compelling reasons for changing our
antiquated registration laws. Therefore, I will not burden you with
more rhetoric along those lines.

I simply want to remind the committee a1)Out the incalculable waste
of our current registration system. The number of organizations which
pour precious money and manpower into registering their particular
constituencies is very impressive. Here are just a few of those organiza-
tions: Both the Republican and Democratic Parties, of course; the
I^eague of 'Women A^oters and all of its State affiliates; the NAACP;
the AFL-CIO. all of its affiliates and all the independent unions, such
as the UAW, Team?^ers, and United Mine "Workers: the A. Philip
Randolph Institute : Frontlash : the Urban League ; and scores of other
organizations with deep civic concern about the continued poor turn-
out of voters.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 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 18 of 28)