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 2 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 2 of 28)
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carry out a program of financial assistance to encourage and
assist the States and local governments in registering voters.

1 Be it enacted hi) the Senate and House of Eeprescnta-

2 lives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

3 That this Act may be cited as the "Voter Eegistration

4 Assistance Act of 1973".

5 Sec. 2. (a) Title 13, United States Code, is amended by

6 adding at the end thereof the following new chapter:






"401. Definitions.

"402. Establishment of Voter Registration Administration.

"403. Functions of the Administration.

"404. Grants to defray costs of voter registration.

"405. Grants to inci-ease voter registration activities.

"406. Grants to modernize voter registration.

"407. Grants for voter registration by mail.

"408. Technical assistance and fraud prevention.

"409. Applications for grants.

"410. Regulations.

"411. Authorization of appropiiations.

2 "§401. Definitions

3 "As used in this chapter —

4 " ( 1 ) 'Adimnistration' means the Voter Eegistra-

5 tion Administration;

6 "{'2) 'State' means each State of the United States,

7 the District of Cokimbia, the CommonweaUh of Puerto

8 Rico, and any territory or possession of the United

9 States; and

10 "(3) 'grant' means grant, contract, or other ap-

11 propriate financial arrangement.

12 "§402. Establishment of Voter Registration Administra-

13 tion

14 "(a) There is established within the Bureau of the

15 Census, Department of Commerce, the Voter Registration

16 Admmistration, hereafter referred to in this chapter as 'Ad-

17 ministration'.

18 "(b) The Administration shall consist of an Adminis-

19 jtrator and two Associate Administrators, who shall be



1 appointed by the President, by and with the advice and

2 consent of the Senate. The Administrator and Associate

3 Administrators shall serve for terms of four years each, and

4 may continue in office until a successor is qualified. An

5 individual appointed to fill a vacancy shall serv^e the re-

6 mainder of the term to which his predecessor was appointed.

7 The Associate Administrators shall not be members of the

8 same political party.

9 "(c) Except as otherwise provided, the Director of

10 the Bureau of the Census, until such time as the members of

11 the Administration are appointed, is authorized to exercise

12 the duties and powers of the Administration created and es-

13 tabhshed by this chapter.

14 "§ 403. Functions of the Administration

15 "(a) The Administration shall —

16 " (1) make grants, in accord with the provisions of

17 this chapter, upon the request of State and local officials,

18 to States and political subdivisions thereof to carry out

19 programs of voter registration;

20 "(2) collect, analyze, and arrange for the publica-

21 tion and sale by the Government Printing Office of in-

22 formation concerning elections in the United States ;

23 " (3) obtain such facilities and supplies, and appo'nt

24 and fix the pay of such officers and employees, as may be

25 necessary to carry out the purpose of this chapter;



1 "(4) provide technical assistance, upon their re-

2 quest, to officials of States and polhical subdivisions

3 thereof concerning voter registration ;

4 " {^^) prepare and submit to the President and the

5 Congress on March 31 following each biennial general

6 Federal election a report on the activities of the Adminis-

7 tration and on voter registration procedures in the States

8 and political subdivisions thereof, including recommenda-

9 tions for such additional legislation as may be appropri-

10 ate ; and

11 " (6) take such other actions as it deems necessary

12 and proper to carry out its functions under this chapter.

13 " (b) The Administration shall not publish or disclose

14 any information which permits the identification of individ-

15 ual voters.

16 "§404. Grants to defray costs of voter registration

17 activities

18 '"The Administration is authorized to make grants to

19 any State or political subdivision thereof for the purpose of

20 carrying out voter registration activities. A grant made

21 under this section shall not be in excess of 10 cents for each

22 eligible voter in the State or poHtical subdivision receiving

23 the grant.

24 "§405. Grants to increase voter registration

25 "(a) The Administration is authorized to make grants



1 to any Stale or political subdivision thereof to establish and

2 carry out programs to increase the number of registered

3 voters. Such a program may include —

4 " ( 1 ) expanded registration hours and locations ;

5 "(2) mobile registration facilities ;

6 "(3) employment of deputy registrars ;

7 "(4) door-to-door canvass procedures ;
3 "(5) absentee registration procedures ;
9 ' " (6/ re-registration programs;

JO "C^) pul)lic infonnation activities; and

11 " (8) other activities designed to increase voter reg-

12 istration and approved by the Administration.

13 " (b) A grant made under this subsection shall be equal

14 to 50 per centum of the fair and reasonable cost, as de-

15 termined by the Administration, of establishing and carry-
IG ing out such a program. A grant made under this section

17 shall not be in excess of 10 cents for each eligible voter in

18 the State or political subdivision receiving the grant.

19 "§ 406. Grants to modernize voter registration

20 "The Administration is authorized to make grants to any

21 State or political sul)division thereof for planning, evaluat-

22 ing, and designing the use of electronic data processing or

23 other appropriate procedures to modernize voter registration.

24 A ffrant made under this section shall not be in excess of one-



1 half cent for each eligible voter in the State or subdivision

2 receiving the grant, or $15,000, whichever is greater.

3 "§ 407. Grants for voter registration by mail

4 "The Administration is authorized to make grants to

5 any State or political subdivision thereof to carry out a pro-

6 gram of voter registration by mail. A grant made under this

7 section shall be equal to the fair and reasonable cost, as

8 detemiined by the Administration, of establishing and operat-

9 ing a registration-by-mail system. Forms available for regis-

10 tration by mail shall confonn to such regulations as the

11 Administration may prescribe, Including the use of bilingual

12 fomis where appropriate. Such forms shall be widely avail-

13 able for distribution in post offices and other public locations

14 and for distribution by private individuals and organizations.

15 "§408. Technical assistance and fraud prevention

16 "The Administration is authorized to provide technical

17 assistance, including assistance in developing programs for

18 the prevention and control of fraud, to any State or political

19 subdivision thereof for improving voter registration and voter

20 participation. Such assistance shall be made available at

21 the request of Strites and political subdivisions thereof, to the

22 extent practicable and consistent with the provisions of this

23 chapter.

24 "§ 409. Applications for grants

>R "Grants authorized by section 404, 405, 406, or -407 of



1 this chapter may he made only upon application to the

2 Administration at such time or times and containing such

3 information as the Administration may prescrihe. The Ad-

4 ministration shall provide an explanation of the grant pro-

5 grams authorized by this chapter to State or local election
Q officials, and shall offer to prepare, upon request, applications

7 for such grants. ISTo application shall be approved unless it —

8 " (a) demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the Admin-

9 istration, that the applicant has primary responsibility

10 for registering voters within its jurisdiction ;

11 " (b) sets forth the authority for the grant under this

12 chapter ;

13 "(c) provides such fiscal control and fund account-

14 ing procedures as may be necessary to assure proper

15 disbursement of and accounting for Federal funds paid to

16 the applicant under this chapter, and provides for mak-

17 ing available to the Administration, for purposes of audit

18 and examination, books, documents, papers, and records

19 related to any funds received under this chapter; and

20 "(d) provides for making such reports, in such form

21 and containing such information, as the Administration

22 may reasonably require to carry out its functions under

23 this chapter, for keeping such records, and for affording

24 such access thereto as the Administration may find neces-



1 sary to assure the correctness and verification of such

2 reports.

3 Ǥ 410. Regulations

4 "The Administration is authorized to issue such rules

5 and regulations as may he necessary or appropriate to carry

6 out the provisions of this chapter.

7 "§411. Authorization of appropriations

8 "Eor the purpose of caiTying out the provisions of this

9 cliapter, there is authorized to be appropriated the sum of

10 $45,000,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1974, and

11 for each of the two succeeding fiscal years."

12 (h) The table of chapters of title 13, United States

13 Code, is amended by adding at the end thereof the following :

"11. Voter Registration 401".

14 Sec. 3. Section 5316 of title 5, United States Code, is

15 amended by adding at the end thereof the following:

16 "(132) Administrator and Associate Administra-

17 tors (2), Voter Registration Administration, Bureau

18 of the Census.".



Senator Kennedy. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It is a
pleasure for me to have the opportunity to appear before this commit-
tee and before you, Mr. Chairman, on the question of voter registra-
tion. Your opening statement has outlined clearly and compellingly
the need for legislation in this area.

I want to commend you. Mr. Chairman, for the leadership you have
provided in Avhat is one of the most important matters we will be fac-
ing in this Congress, a matter basic to all the other rights of the Ameri-
can people, the right to vote.

I want to acknowledge, at the outset of the hearings, the distin-
guished member of this committee, the Senator from Alaska, Senator
Stevens who is a cosponsor of the legislation I have introduced. I am
also pleased to recognize the Honorable H. A. Boucher, Lieutenant
Governor of the State of Alaska. Alaska, as one of the newest States,
has provided enormously imaginative leadership in the whole area of
voter registration. If the country can follow the example of Alaska,
many of the problems we are facing can be eliminated. Alaska was
one of the first States to recognize the importance of extending the
right to vote to young people below the age of 21. And this past year,
Alaska carried out one of the most aggressive voter registration pro-
grams for high school students in the country. In addition, I under-
stand that the State has an enormously imaginative program of reach-
ing out into the more remote and rural communities of the State,
using principles which could easily be adopted and followed in other
parts of rural America.

Alaska has also adopted the idea of the computer in providing a
more efficient and effective system of registration. As I understand it,
only three States, including Alaska, are using computerized registra-
tion, although several other States are now planning to do so.

By any test Alaska has been imaginative and creative in this area,
and I commend both Senator Stevens and Lieutenant Governor
Boucher for their interest and concern. I am pleased they are here to
speak to this issue and bring their expertise to benefit the members of
this committee and the Senate.

In large part, the story of American democracy in the past century
has been written in the long line of successful efforts to expand the
franchise and to broaden the base of political participation in our
society. Six of the past 12 amendments to the Constitution have
been concerned with extending the right to vote. Hand in hand with
these great amendments in recent years have come a series of landmark
decisions by the Supreme Court and far-reaching laws enacted by Con-
gress — each a historic victory in our continuing effort to insure the
broadest possible exercise of the right to vote.

Now we have reached the next frontier — ^the archaic and obsolete
system of voter registration that operates each year to deny the vote
to tens of millions of our citizens. Not for more than half a century, not
since 1920, when the Nation adopted the 19th amendment and extended
the vote to women, have we had the opportunity to take a step capable
of expanding the franchise to include so many millions of our citizens.


Congress has the chance now to achieve another major milestone in our
democracy, and I hope that we will be equal to the challenge.

The problem is clear. For a nation that likes to call itself a democ-
racy responsive to the people, oiir record of voter participation is a
national scandal and disgrace. Of all the figures to come out of the 1972
presidential election last November, perhaps the most distressing is the
fact that only 56 percent of those who were eligible to vote actually
went to the polls on election day. The percentage of vot^r turnout in
1972 was five points lower even than in the low-turnout year of 1968,
itself one of the lowest voter turnouts in any presidential election in
this century, and the lowest turnout since 1948.

Put another way, of the 139 million eligible voters in 1972, only 77
million actually went to the polls. Sixty-two million citizens stayed
home — 62 million lost voters — at a time when 47 million citizens were
voting for President Nixon and 29 million were voting for Senator

The voting record of America becomes even more dismal when we
compare it with the record of other Western democracies. In 1970 in
Britain, 71 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls and they
called it one of the lowest turnouts in British history. In recent elec-
tions in other European nations, the turnout has been even higher — 74
percent in Canada, 77 percent in France, and 91 percent in West Ger-

In part, of course, the dramatically higher voter turnout in foreign
countries is a result of the fact that the United States stands virtually
alone among the democratic nations of the world in tolerating a pas-
sive role of government in registration, and in leaving registration en-
tirely to the initiative of the individual, rather than to government

Thus, in Britain, registration officials prepare annual voting lists
in each election district, using mail and door-to-door canvass methods.
And that's no modern innovation. They've been doing it that way in
Britain for the better part of the past 100 years.

And for more than 30 years in Canada, registration officials have
prepared ad hoc voting lists before each Federal election my making
a door-to-door canvass in each election district. Before the June 1968
election, for example, 81,000 Canadian officials registered 11 million
citizens — 98 percent of the eligible voters — at a cost of approximately
$7.5 million, or slightly less than 69 cents a voter. If this Canadian ex-
perience can be extrapolated to the United States — and I think it can
for many States and counties — the cost of a similar registration can-
vass would be approximately $100 million for the Nation.

At the same time, the higher voter turnout in Nations like Britain
and Canada cannot be ascribed entirely to their "government initia-
tive" systems. Even if we accept the principle of our own American
system of "individual initiative" in voter registration, there is no ex-
cuse for the unreasonable burdens we place on individuals who want to
register. Instead of an "individual initiative" system, our system might
more appropriately be called a "law of the jungle" or a "survival of
the fittest" system, because of the chaos and complexity and confusion
in our methods of voter registration.


We know that the situation has not always been this way in the
United States. Throughout the later half of the 19th century, voter
turnout in our presidential elections consistently ranged in the neigh-
borhood of 70 percent to 80 percent. Twice, it exceeded 80 percent.
Only once did it drop as "low" as 70 percent.

Since 1900, however, we have not seen the 70-percent level again.
Eight times in this century — including 1972, the first time since 1948 —
the turnout has fallen below 60 percent. Twice it fell below 50 per-
cent. Clearly, in spite of the enormous progress that the 20th century
has brought us in so many other areas, we have moved backward in
the crucial area of voter participation.

The cause is not far to seek. Study after study in recent years has
demonstrated that registration is the villain, and 1972 was no excep-
tion. The heart of the problem is our archaic system of voter registra-
tion. It is no accident that the sharp decline in voter turnout at the
beginning of the 20th century coincided with the advent of voter
r-egistration legislation.

For decades, every American who sought to exercise his right to
A'ote has had to run a gauntlet of arbitrary, unfair and obsolete require-
ments of voter registration. Confronted by such requirements, mil-
lions more refuse to even try.

Today, in spite of the enormous progress we have made in so many
others areas of public life, we are still using voter registration methods
which were, perhaps, sophisticated at the turn of the century, but
which are generations out of date today.

Ten years ago in 1963, the report of President Kennedy's Commis-
sion on Registration and Voting Participation issued a clear call for
reforms in voter registration, to insure that registration is easily ac-
cessible to all citizens. The language and the conclusions of that report
are as current and timely today as they were when it was published a
decade ago, thanks in large part to our failure to follow through in

In almost every other sphere in which Government now operates —
at the Federal, State or local level — it uses the tools of the modern
world, especially in the area of communications with the people. But if
governments collected taxes the way they register votei-s today, they
would be so bankrupt that revenue sharing could never bail them out.
Why is it that Americans pay their taxes by mail, when they still have
to register to vote by methods as obsolete as the Pony Express or the
model T?

There is ample evidence that reform in voter registration is the key
to improvement in voter turnout. The figure I have cited — 56 percent
voter participation in 1972 — does not tell the true story. In fact, accord-
ing to the preliminary results of a population survey carried out by
the Census Bureau 2 weeks after the election last November, of the
Americans who said they were registered to vote 1972, fully 87 percent
went to the polls and cast their ballots on election day. Put another
way, of the 62 million citizens who stayed home on election day in
1972, the vast majority were not registered to vote. They could not have
voted, even if they had wanted to. Only a small percentage of those
who stayed home were registered to vote.

As the table attached to my testimony shows, the most recent avail-
able official data on voter registration bear out the dramatic fact sug-


gested by the census poll — the overwhelming majority of citizens
who are registered actually go to the polls and vote on election day.
In seven States — Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Montana,
Nebraska, New Jersey, and Oklahoma — more than 80 percent of the
registered voters actually cast their votes. In 17 additional States,
more than 70 percent of the registered voters went to the i^olls. In
eight other States, the figure was over 60 percent. In only four of
the 36 States for which data are now available did the turnout of
registered votere fall below 60 percent.

Those figures are the measure of both our present failure and our
future promise. They indicate that somewhere between 15 and 30
million citizens lost their right to vote because of the requirement
of registration. Think of the voter participation we could have on
election day if we liad universal voter registration. At a single stroke
we could increase our election turnout by 10 or 20 percentage points
by up to 15 to 30 million voters — enough to rival any other major
Western nation and make our democracy worthy of the name.

This is the real lesson for the future. Americans who register are
Americans who vote. If our goal is to bring America to the polls the
place to start is with voter registration.

The defects of the present system are not confined to any State or
geographic region. They go by names like early closing deadlines, un-
reasonable purges of voting rolls, unfair reregistration requirements,
inaccessible registration offices, and lack of absentee registration.
Wherever we look we see the problem :

In some States registration closes far too early before the election.
Often the closing date is weeks or months before election day. Last
March, in the Blmnstein case, the Supreme Court indicated tiiat the
registration books could be closed no earlier than 30 days before an
election, and I would suggest, Mr. Chairman, that any bill the com-
mittee reports should nail that deadline down. Early closing deadlines
serve no legitimate administrative purpose. All they do is deny the
right to vote. In 1968 in Idaho, for example, the registration books
were closed only 2 days before the election, and 72 percent of the eli-
gible voters cast their ballots on election day.

In many of the Nation's cities and counties there is no real local
registration office. The only place a citizen can register to vote is at
city hall or at the central downtown office of the board of elections.
In other cities the problem is even worse. The only place to register
may be the county courthouse outside the city limits. And, in thou-
sands of rural areas, registration means a long and time-consuming
journey into town.

For millions of residents in communities like these, the inconven-
ience of a trip downtown or out of town or into town is an insur-
mountable barrier to registration. Often the expense of the trip or
the loss of income or time away from the job is sufficient by itself to
inhibit registration— in effect, an election tax that denies the right to
vote as surely as the outlawed poll tax used to do.
_ For millions of the Nation's citizens who are elderly, disabled, or
sick— those who do not have the physical ability to travel to the
registration office to register in person— the lack of any effective pro-
cedure for absentee registration means that they are denied the rip-ht
to vote at all. "^


And, those who find their way to the registration office often learn
that their problems have just begun. In some cases the office is open
only an hour or two a day, or a day or two a week. Sometimes, it may
be necessary to make an appointment in advance. Other times, the
registrar simply shuts the office early, if no applicants arrive that
day. In still other cases, all but the most determined voters ^ive up in
the face of the endless lines and waiting periods they find mside the
door of the registration office.

Finally, even those who complete the obstacle course and think they
have actually registered to vote are often wrong on election day.
Thanks to the chaos and confusion of the registration process — and
sometimes a touch of fraud — thousands of voters who went to the polls
on election day last fall were denied the right to vote because no record
of their registration could be found.

It is not just the disadvantaged who are caught by the existing sys-
tem. The problem is not confined to any single population group or
geographic region. The system traps us all — the businessman in his
office, the housewife in her suburb, the worker in his factory, the doctor
in his clinic.

How do you think Gov. William Scranton felt at his polling place
in Pennsylvania on November 7, when he had to go to court to get an
order compelling local officials to let him vote, because his registration
card was missing ?

And that example represents only the top of the iceberg of the

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 2 of 28)