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 20 of 28)
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lower voter turnout has been the archaic restrictive laws in many states and
communities that inhibit a citizen from exercising his franchise of register-
ing and voting.

In state after state, we see the chaos and complexity and confusion in
our present registraf'on ^-stem. Wherever we lor.k, we find that registration
is an obstacle course for the voter instead of the easy path to the polls it ought
to be. The defects In the present system are not coifmed to any state or
geographic region. I am sure the Committee is aware of the problems of early
closing deadlines, '^nfair registration requirements, inaccessible registration
offices aid a host of other burdens put upon the citizen when he attempts to
register. To repeat, we take the position that the government not only has the
legal obligat-.on to provide the facilities and machinery for registering and
voting, but also the moral obligation of enthusiastically encouraging our citizens
to register and vote. We feel that too often our laws discourage, not encourage,
voter participation. It is our conten;ion that in states where you have good
registration laws, the citizens will more likely respond on Election Day.

While, generally speaking, over the years only six out of ten adult
Americans \ote; nine out of ten of those who are registered vote. According to
preliminary census data, 87% of those registering to vote in 1972 went to the
polls and voted on Election Day. A comparison of the voter turnout in states
where you have good registration laws, and those who don't, point out the same


fact. For example: in Georgia, which had a restrictive residency requirement
and closed down its registration 50 days before Election Day, had only a 37,8%
voter turnout, whereas m Utah, which has a more liberal residency requirement
and keeps its registration open to a few days before election, had a 69.4% voter
turnout in the 1972 election. Obviously, once Americans register, they do
exercise their voting rights. Also, we find mos*: alarming that the burden of our
complex ar.d capric ous registration system weighs ^special'y heavy on dis-
advantaged groups in our society.

Only 66% of th-e cation's black citizens were registered in 1968 while the
figure was 76% for the wnite population.

Only 53% of those in families wi:h incomes of less than $3, 000 were
registered in 1968, wl ile 82% of those in families with incomes between $10, 000
and $15,000 were registered.

Only 69% of the nation's manual workers were registered to vote while
83% of the r.ation's w'hite collar workers were registered.

The prel:mi^:ary census data for 1972 indicate that essentially the same
pattern was followed last November with two additional groups at a serious dis-
advantage: 18 to 21 year olds of whom only about 40% went to the polls and
Mexican-Americans, of whom only about 30% voted.

Clearly, on the basLs of statistics like these, the burden of our present
registration system fal's most heavily on the poor, the black, the less educated,
ine blue-collar worker, the young, and the Spanish-speaking.


We belie\e the key to aa effective election law is a simple method of
national registration - the registration process as prov:ded by Senate Bill
352, as introduced bv Senator McGee. This registration process would
establish with ti-ie Bureau of Census a system allowing voters to register to
vote in federal elections by complying wi;h the following procedure:

- Postcard registration forms would be delivered through the mails
to each postal address, preaddressed for mailing to the appropriate state
or local registration office.

= By fil'ing out and mailing this simple form back to the state official,
a citizen would thus be registered.

One of (he mail ohiecr^ons to this postcard registration hasheen the
opponent's claim ina: reg 's-rat'-or. by mail might lead to fraud and ineligible
electors he ng placed on the This argument doesnot seem to prevail
when you consider ihe facts. For example, in the state of North Dakota,
there is no registration wha:soever. You sjmply go up a.-:d ask for your ballot
and sign a book. It is your affidavit that you are legitimate. To my knowledge,
there has been no vote fraud case eter to come out of North Dakota. The same
could be pointed out i'l the sta;e of Texas where Texans for many years have
been able to reg.ster bv clipping a coupon from a newspaper, completing the
form and mai'ing it to the county clerk. There is no evidence indicating that
Texas has exuer .ficed an increase in fraudulent registration.


Another aspect of the registering process we would like to comment upon
is the residence requirement and the closing of registration. Since Senator McGee
last introduced S. 2574 in the 92nd Congress, the Supreme Court in Dunn vs .
Blumstein, held tha^ the unreasonable residency requirement in Tennessee was
illegal. Since then, Tennessee has established a 30=day residency requirement
similar to that used for presidential elections. However, there seem to be some
uncertainties in soiTie of the states as to how Dunn vs. Blumstein is to be
interpreted. Certain states are circumventing this decision by closing down
registration 40 to 50 days prior to Election Day. Our position is that as a
minimum, the closing of the registration and the residency requirements should
be similar and not more than 30 days. Some stales have registering up to 3 or 4
days before election a-id have experienced no difficulties in conducting the
e lection.

We are hopeful rhat this national voter reg.sfration proposal will become
law. Tr is our op'.niori that left to individual state actions, the comprehensive
reform ue need will nc. er happen. Registration is a national problem and it
demands a nar.onal solution. It would be our opinion that if you provide an easy
and simple method for the citizens of this country to become registered, they
wilt respond bot^i to registering and *o exercising their constitutional right: to
vote on Election Day.

It is our b.o\t. 'at this is a result devoutly wished for by all good citizens
in all political parties.


(The following statements were subsequently supplied for the


The right to vote is tlie most basis ingredient
to participatory democracy. Any impedment to the exercise
of tliat right must have exceptional justification in this

Anytime the procedures for qualifying to vote,
for registering to vote, or for voting itself, serve to dis-
courage a citizen from voting then the procedures must witli-
stand severe examination. The present crazy-quilt pnttern
of State and local laws confront the potential voter witli
confusion and difficulty and cannot be justified on any basis
of jiro Lection against fraud or alnise.

During the last Congress tl\e Senate strongly
expressed its view tliat the Federal government has a rcsjion-
sibility to facilitate the registration of voters when it
atlojitcd my amendment to help 18 year olds register to voir
when they register for the draft. Unfortunately, tlie amend-
iiioTit was dropped in tlie conference oil the Military Select i\'e
Service Act, but tlic Senate had established its position.

The United States, which should be an exemplary
nation to the free world, has a lower level of voter partic-
ipation thnn any other democracy. Tlic liigiiest rate oP parti c
Ipation in the twentieth century was in the Presidential


election o£ 1960, when 64 percent of Americans of voting age
actually voted. In 1968, only 60.6 percent voted - nn
estimated 47 million adult Americans failed to vote for some
reason. Of these, 27 million were not even registered. In
1972, 62 million eligible voters did not vote. Between 1960
and 1968, an increase of 8 million Americans failed to vote,
and between 1968 and 1972 the increase was another 15 million.
At that rate it is estimated that in the next 20 years we can
expect to see 70 to 90 million Americans not participating in
the Presidential elections.

During this same period of time, in my own liome
state of Missouri, in 1960 71.8 percent of the eligible
Missourians voted, in 1964 it had decreased to 67.4 percent,
in 1968 to 63.1 percent, and in 1972 to only 50 percent.

If any program can be devised to simplify, remove
or otherwise eliminate encumbrances to voting, tlien that pro-
gram should be adopted if it does not endanger the riglit of vol
ing by exposing it to fraud. Wliere laws encourage voter
participation, make registration easy and permit registration
close to election day, registration and voter participation
are increased substantially. Anything that hampers voting
blurs the distinction between democracy and dictatorship.


Furthermore, while many voting requirements mny
be justified on a single state basis, when they are a part of
a disorganized pattern among states that serve to discourage
a mobile voter, then the Federal government has an obligation
to assume jurisdiction.

For these reasons, I feel that a National Voter
Registration system is needed and abundantly justified. Tliis
bill, S.352, would establish a national voter registration system
operated by a Federal agency, the National Voter Registration
Administration, located within the Bureau of the Census,
Department of Commerce.

It would utilize the service of the U.S. Postal
Service to distribute Federal voter registration cards to
every postal address in the United States no earlier tlian 45
days nor later than 30 days before every Federal election.
These mail voter registration cards would be returned by the
registrant to the State or local government voter rcgi st ra r i on
office. The State office would process the cards, registering
the applicant as a voter in the next Federal election and hilling
the Federal government for processing the cards.

Federal payments would also be made if tlie State
establishing a registration system for State and local elections
similar to that instituted by the provisions of this bill for
Federal elections. Payments would be 3© percent of the amount
paid to tlic State for processing the registration cards.

I apiUaud this effort to increase tlie participa-
tion in our democracy, a participation which is necessary to
jirescrve ttiat iltMiioc racy •


FEBRU;^»RY — 1973


The Communications Workers of America, a labor union which
represents more than 550,000 people, supports the concepts of
modernizing national voter registration embodied in the legislnHon
which is currently before the Senate Committee on Post Office and
Civil Service and which was introduced by Senators Gale McGee
and Edward M. Kennedy. We believe that the crazyquilt pattern
of state voter registration has created millions of dropouts from
democracy. These archaic regulations have unwarrantedly circum-
scribed rather than expanded the voting opportunities of millions
of eligible Americans.

The statistics of our recent Presidential election dramatically
illustrate the sagging trend of voter participation in our demo-
cratic political process. Presidential elections are the ones in
which Americans traditionally have had the strongest urge to
participate. Yet, of the 139 million eligible voters, 62 million,
44 percent of the potential electorate, failed to vote. The 6?
million eligible citizens who did not participate in the eleriini,
were 15 million stronger in numbers than the 47 million Americans
who voted for Richard Nixon in his landslide victory.

Unfortunately, the trend away from participatory democracy
has been growing rather than declining in America during recent
elections. In 1968, a total of 47 million eligible Americans
failed to go to the polls. In 1964, the figure was 43 million.
Thus, over the last eight years the number of eligible voters who
failed to participate in the electoral process has increased by
19 million, or 44 percent, from 43 million to 62 million.


Poor voting performances have not always clouded our
national political horizon. Indeed, during the last half of the
19th century, voter turnout in Presidential elections averaged
between 70 and 80 percent, but since the election of William McKinley
in 1900, voter participation has never again reached the 70 percent
level. It is significant that many contemporary historians believe
the decline in voter participation began at the turn of this
century, shortly after strict voter registration legislation had
been adopted to keep minorities, other ethnic groups and the poor
from participating in the American electoral process.

Although we like to think of ourselves as the greatest
democracy in the history of the world, the plain fact is that
our national voting record pales by comparison with the records
of other Western democracies. In recent elections in European
nations, 87 percent of those eligible to vote did so in West Germany,
80 percent participated in France, 89 percent voted in Denmark,
83 percent went to the polls in Norway, and 76 percent of those
eligible in Canada, our neighbor to the north, participated in the
electoral process on election day. In 1970, when only 72 percent
of those eligible voted in the last election in England, the turn-
out was referred to as one of the lowest in British history.

The main reason why other Western democracies achieve such a
high rate of citizen participation in national elections is that
very few of those countries require the voter to personally go
down to City Hall or to a courthouse or to a temporary registration
place to sign up to vote. In addition, the citizens of these
other countries are not confronted with a labyrinthine set of


registration laws that vary in marked degree from state to state.

We fully believe that America's outmoded registration
requirements are the chief obstacle to increased participatory
democracy in the United States. Statistics have shown that
although only 55 to 65 percent of those eligible vote, 9 out of 10
registered Americans do vote. Once Americans register, they ur,e
their right to vote.

There are many examples of restrictions that limit registration.
In 10 states, registration closes more than 30 days before the
election, well before the period of peak interest in a contest for
political office. For example, Pennsylvania closes its books 50
days before an election, California - 54 days and Rhode Island -
60 days. In only 23 states is absentee registration permitted.
In many states one is forced to register every year. The State of
Missouri has six different registration arrangements for cities
based on their size, and another system is available for counties
at their option.

Also, in most states, registration places are only open from
9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Moreover, many Americans,
especially in rural areas, must travel long distances — in some cn-.-.r^
hundreds of miles — a great inconvenience, and must appear in person
in order to register to vote. All of these thwart voter parti-
cipation by many eligible Americans.

The result of this hodge-podge of voter registration
regulations is that many blue-collar workers, poor people, members
of ethnic minorities and elderly persons, as well as many of those
with less formal education, have found these burdensome rules


intolerable and have withdrawn from participation in the American
political process.

Only 69 percent of America's manual workers were registered
to vote in the 1968 election, compared to 83 percent of white-
collar workers. There are similar discrepancies between those with
incomes of less than $3,000 and those with incomes between
$10,000 and $15,000, between blacks and whites, between old and
young, and between men or women with little schooling and men or
women with a college education. Indeed, most pitiable of all,
the nation's elderly, who helped to build on and improve America,
are often denied the basic right to vote during their golden years,
because they are physically unable to travel to the registration
office to register in person.

In some instances, registration laws are used as screening
devices to deny blacks the right to vote. In Kemper County,
Mississippi, the white registration rate is nearly 100 percent,
while the black rate is 33 percent. In parishes and counties in
other Southern states, similar disparities in registration exist
and have existed for a long time.

To rectify these inequities, which inhibit participation in
the democratic process, the NcHr-ir-na:! Voter Registration Act wai Id
establish a simple postcard system that would allow for voting
registration in all Federal elections throughout the nation by
simply mailing the card to the local post office. We fully support
this measure, including the categorical establishment by legislation
of a uniform 30-day residency requirement prior to an election


throughout the nation as the criterion for voting in a national

Throughout American history, efforts have been made to
expand the right of suffrage. Originally, only white, male, adult
property-owners were able to vote. Six of the last 12 amendments
to our Constitution have extended the right to vote. Our most
recent amendment, the 26th, enabled 18-year-olds to vote. Fifty
years ago, the 19th amendment was adopted, enfranchising women.
In 1870, slightly more than a century ago, the 15th amendment was
adopted, guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens regardless
of their race. These and other amendments have widened democratic
participation in our electoral process.

The adoption of national voter registration legislation would
be another major step toward opening up the important frontier of
democratic participation to millions of hard-working, tax-paying,
law-abiding Anerican citizens who each day contribute to the well-
being and progress of our country. We urge the immediate enactment
by Congress of this progressive and much-needed legislation.

91-577 O— 73 14


Statement by Floyd E. Smith,
International President

International Association of Machinists
and Aerospace Workers

On S.352 - Before the Senate Committee
on Post Office and Civil Service

February 7, 1973
Washington, D. C.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

My name is Floyd E. Smith. In appearing here, in support of the
purposes and hopefully the enactment of S,352, I believe I am repre-
senting the best interests of the hundreds of thousands of voters, and
potential voters, who earn their living under the protection of con-
tracts negotiated by the International Association of Machinists and
Aerospace Workers.

For many years our organization has been trying to encourage its
members to exercise their right to vote. We stress the direct con-
nection between the ballot box and the bread box in our publications,
our education programs and our various local, state and regional con-
ferences. As a practical extension of these programs of membership
education many of our locals and districts sponsor voter registration
and get-out-the-vote drives. Although many states have acted in recent
years to make registration easier and more accessible to working people
some continue to discourage voting by making it unnecessarily

We believe that cumbersome registration procedures are especially


discriminatory against working people. Most workers are paid by the
hour. This means that when they are forced to take off vjork to regis-
ter, they pay a price in lost wages that few can afford. Moreover, the
work force today is more mobile than ever. When unemployment rates are
above normal, as they have been for some years, workers tend to move
from community to community and even from state to state in search of
employment. Often these workers are disqualified by unreasonably
lengthy residency requirements. At one time it may have been necessary
to make registration difficult In order to prevent voter frauds. When
communications were more primitive there may also have been justifica-
tion for establishing relatively lengthy residency requirements. This
gave newly domiciled citizens time in which to become familiar with
local issues and candidates. However, Senate Bill 352 provides adequate
safeguards against voter fraud and the communications explosion generated
by radio and television has negated the rationale for requiring long
periods of residency. This is especially true in Federal elections.

Many observers of the American political scene are seriously con-
cerned because the proportion of citizens who vote has been declining
in recent years. Some contend that this is because many Americans no
longer believe that their votes make any difference. But this is all
the more reason to make registration and voting easier and more con-
venient for those who do believe in the democratic process and want to
strengthen It by voting.

In summary, it Is the position of the Machinists Union that there
are many good reasons to adopt legislation, such as S.352, that is
designed to expand voter participation and no valid reason for keeping


the present conflicting and confusing crazy quilt of state voter regis-
tration requirements. Just as Congress made 18-year-old suffrage in
Federal elections uniform throughout the nation, it should do the same
for voter registration requirements. We respectfully and strongly urge
the enactment of S.352.



Statement of Professor William J. Crotty, Department of Political Science,
Northwestern University

February 26, 1973

The United States will commemorate its 200th birthday in 1976. The nation
will celebrate the resilency of the democratic forms that have matured it through
two tempetuous centuries. Yet in that same year, tens of millions of otherwise eligible
Americans will not even vote in the presidential election, a failure caused in
large part by a governmental system that makes unwarranted demands on those citizens
least able to meet them.

It is a curiousity of American politics, and a problem not shared by other
major democracies, that on the eve of its bicentennial this nation is just begin-
ning to appreciate the injustices imposed on million of its citizens. More im-
portantly, as the bill pending before this Committee attests, the nation is moving
to do something positive about one of its public disgraces.

Perhaps we should start at the beginning. Why bother to vote? Quite sjiii|))y,
if an individual does not vote he forfeits any say in what his government does.
It makes little sense to argue that one individual's vote decides public policy or
directs the actions of a nation. It is quite another matter, however, whi-n
million do not vote, as they did not in 1972, and when these non-voters in offct-i;
deny meaningful representation to major population groups - thc poor, the yonn;^,
bl.ncks, chicanos, the least educated, the mobile, those in the are cities and re-
mote farming areas and those who serve in this nation's military. An isoJnti'd viii'
lost Is one thing. Millions of voters representing the concerns of major pn(.iil.i-
tion groups denied the right to exercise an unfettered franchise is quite .Tnolhcr.

I would argue that the vote is the true symbol of a deinocr.Tcy. rhi- i-nur: |ii ion
of a government controlled by its citizenry and responsive to its needs i «; mimlrfii
through this art of voting. I would not argue that the vote gives evorynnc eqnil
political access or influence. We are well aware that the many who can call i
legislator to discuss in private terms matters of concern to him, that can emi)1'iy
the media and other organizations created for no other purpose tlian to plead hi:;
case with the public and its lawmakers has far more effect on policy than .'iiy nn.-
person in a polling both. Voting represents an attempt to influence} policy; ■in
attempt to make clear an individual's preference as to the issvies of the day .uul
tlmse who should have the power to make the decisions of government. The inpnl
into government is minimal. The act is critical when calculated in term;; oC i I m
symbolic importance or when individual votes are massed into a group total,';. V'-i
for the average citizen influence exercised by one vote constitutes the low.;! Ic'i 1
of political impact. No one should fear the vote of an other. No one 18 yrnn: ulil
or older and a resident of this country should be barred from voting. The burden

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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 20 of 28)