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 22 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 22 of 28)
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«ame up. The voting- record gets more and more alarming, it seems to
me, each time we vote. I have asked this question of each witness who
came up here, but none had the answer.

It forces me to conclude that the suggestion — considering what it
is — of a massive study of why people don't vote would have at least
the effect of adding information to specific things we presently do
know about and which we discussed. Now, we ought to have studies
as to why people don't vote; because that is complex, particularly in a
sophisticated society.

Some people never will vote, even if you bring the voting booth
right into their li\dng room or wherever they are watching TV. They
simply will not vote and you have to allow for that. We can't enforce
a law to make people vote. But we also have rather strong evidence
that there is a substantial portion of several millions of our people
\yho, rightly or wrongly, point a finger at the difficulties in registra-
tion; and I don't suppose that a study of their motivations was ever
made as to whether they have a mental block on this business or could
not get down to register, or whatever alibi they had.

Ms. Lawtox. Well, I think, the one thing that makes it different at
this point, Senator, is that we had substantial changes in the law effec-
tive in the 1972 election, all of which were directed at reducing bar-
riers. We had the laws which Congress has passed and we had the
Dunn V. Blumstein decision, where the Court struck out long dura-
tional residence requirements across the board, holding these to be a
violation of the Constitution. Yet, we had an appallingly low i^ercent-
age voters.

I think, the situation of the law has changed sufficiently, so that,
while certain studies would be forever postponing action, we have a
sufficient change in the law, at this point in time to get into a study
of why all of these changes liberalizing the voting procedures did not
produce voters.

The Chairmax. You did make the suggestion, the latter part of
your remarks, that, if we got a 100-percent or a 90-percent participa-
tion, it might be worth the effort. Do we know the percentage of those
voters who ai'e i-egistered to vote ?

Ms. Lawtox. I have not seen the studies that were promised yester-
day but did not arrive. Senator ; but I believe Census had some pre-
liminary figures on the 1972 election. I know that the percentages
varied considerably, from State to State, as compared to the old data
that were presented at the hearing last year. There was considerable
variation, from State to State, running as high as 80 percent in some
States, and as low as 56 percent in other States, I believe — and these
were registered voters who did not vote.

The Chairmax. Just a moment. I was double-checking here against
the testimony that was submitted here 2 or* 3 weeks ago when we held
a hearing on this. It was suggested to us that the voters who were reg-
istered, on the aA^erage. ranged between 80 and 90 percent and that
there was a sharp and high incidence of participation, once they were
registered and friendly.


This measure is aimed at one of the factors that seem to stand in
the way of voter registration. I must say to you that the vokmie of the
testimony we have on the statistical findings of those Avho surveyed
this in their area leads us to conclude that the inconveniences incidental
to registration will show up in the statistical figures as to how many
voters are not registered ; but the statistics may not reflect their state
of mind.

It works a strain on some who cannot get to the courthouse until
after 5 o'clock, when its doors are closed — and that situation still exists
in parts of the United States. One point of this particular legislation
is aimed in that particular direction. We have no excuse for permitting
that to happen, if we agree that registration is important for voting.

Therefore, I would think we had better try to remove the known
barriers, even before we try to find the mystical unlviioAvn factors that
produce the voters' indifference. I agree that voters' indifference is
an exceedingly disturbing and frustrating thing in our society. We
think about the voters' participation as a key to the underpinning of
our political life; and I would think that the worst crime that we
could probably commit here w^ould be to get a few more votei-s, be-
cause we pulled out the last alibi they had or were hanging onto at
least — that of registering. Well, the only cAddence we have suggested
is that, once registered, almost 9 out of 10 then will vote.

Ms. Lawton. I am not sure I can accept that evidence, Mr. Chair-
man, largely because the people wdio are registered now, at least
where those barriers exist, are the most highly motivated people, so
I think it can be expected that they would show up on election day,
as well as on the registration day. As to the group that has to be
dragged in by their heels, I am not sure that you can still be sure
that 90 percent of them will show up and vote on election day — it may
be higher, no doubt — but I don't think it will be the same percentage,
because you are dealing with a differently motivated group.

The Chairman. Probably it would not run quite as high as that
in a democracy, but it would probably run higher than zero.

Ms. Lawtox. Yes; it would certainly be highei- than zero; but you
pointed out the diversity that exists in some States, and there are
others that have gone through real efforts to register people by using
mobile units, to urge people to register, in shopping centers, for
instance. That is very commonly done in this area and, I understand,
also in many parts of California.

Can we assume that some States do make it difficult to register? I
have no doubt that there are registrars who go out of their way so
as not to be bothered with registrations. But to take a solution like
this and impose it generally and also on those States that do well
now by themselves without Federal help — as w-ell as the States that
don't — and on those States that do not have registration require-
ments — would put a new bai-rier on States like North Dakota, for in-
sitance, that does not now exist. As I understand it, there are no excep-
tions in the bill.

But here you are adding a barrier. In the rural comities of MiSvSOuri
you are adding a barrier also that does not now exist. Is that the
answer. Senator? It may be, but we have our doubts.

The Chairman. You are suggesting that in North Dakota and
Missouri counties this wall actually impede the voters' registering?

Ms. Law^ton. It puts in one more qualification they now do not


have to meet. Of course, these may be highly motivated people that
vote — no matter what ; so maybe they would meet it. I don't know.
I am not too familiar with each State

The Chairman. What about voting without the registration re-
quirement, as it is done perhaps in the North Dakota system, is there
a voting pi'oblom '(

Ms. Lawton. Nonregistration or abolished registration nationwide ?

The Chairman. Yes.

Ms. Lawton. It would cause constitutional problems in State elec-

The Chairman. I was thinking only of Federal elections.

Ms. Lawton. Only in Federal elections? I don't know, Senator. It
might be in highly urban areas with long histories of voting irregular-
ities, whereas it might not in some other areas; it is hard to say. It is
this whole problem with these diversities that we have, to begin with.
We have got such an uneven pattern in the voting areas of this coun-
try with respect to State percentages. We found States with no regis-
tration requirements in the tables shown at the hearing-s of last year,
and others with very low percentage of voters. On the other hand, we
found States with long- residency and registration requirements that
showed excellent voting percentages. Why? Wo don't know why.

The Chairman. I can understand your 'misgivings and I share some
of them. Wliat I don't understand are the complexities of nonvoting
and the effort to remove this x number of known barriers which, we all
agree, keep people from registering. If we would address ourselves to
the question "why do registered people not vote?", that is qiute a dif-
ferent one.

I just don't think we have any excuse to tolerate in Federal elec-
tions any mechanical, physical or mystical impediment in whatever
is required in the registration process! We are not abolishing registra-
tion ; we are trying to incite it or at least to remove the alibis.

So, I think, you are voting for two separate things. One is the Ameri-
can voters' incentive, or lack of it, foi- voting; and the other problem
are the mechanical and legislative things that do make it more difficult
to vote in some places than others. So I would hope to keep those two
reterded concepts rather separate. I don't think they are necessarily
a part of your problems.

Ms. Law^ton. Perhaps — not necessarily — ^but, I think, they are a
part, to a certain degree. Anyone wlio ever sent out general mailings
with the request ''Please return this postcard, indicating whether you
will or will not attend" knows that those who are unmotivated don't
even return postcards. So you still have the unmotivated problem.

The Chairman. Of course, that is true ; and it will not only mean
that the postcards themselves are lost, but, if we fail to get all poten-
tial voters to respond, we shall have kept from voting as many as 5
million, T million, 2i/^ million, 11 million or 19 million people— and I
am quoting the exact figures that were suggested — who would in fact
have registered, if we could simplify the registration iirocess.

You can see that we are doodling here with minutia in an extreme
effort to survey it, but on the other hand we are obstructing the votes
of a very large group — not in percentages but total numbers — by
climbing'around here to see what we can verify, as to their motivations,
with a postcard-registration system, which invariably raises the factor
of cost. Of course, we cannot be sure at this point.


The question is, I suppose, "What is it worth to have a more accessi-
ble voter-participation pi-ocess?" I, as one of the legislators, would
hate to have to put a dollar value or a budgetary vahie on this cost,
although I think that the money factor is less of a consideration at this

In our approach under S. 352, of course, the costs are known to be
considerably lower than in the bill that is pending. For my purposes,
I am talking about S. SS'i. I am not even weigliing the cost factor.
The Kennedy bill has a relevancy factor that was testified to; but —
although it raised many points that we were required to think about —
in terms of relevancy to produce a step forward, I thought that S. 352
was far more relevant.

Again I want to repeat for the record : let us not make a mistake by
saying that S. 352 purpoits to solve the nonvoter problem or the non-
voting citizens" problem. It does not. It only intends to chip away sig-
nificant chunks from the wall that has obstructed a large citizen-
participation in the voting process.

One of the developments that I was getting at a moment ago, when I
asked you if you had made any studies of this problem over the last
18 months or so — realizing then that we were deeply concerned about
knowing more — your reply was that nothing had been imdertaken in
this respect, so that we might benefit from it in the coming 18 months.
I have gone to one or two colleagues who are now on this committee
and who raised the same question on the floor. They said they needed
more time to think about it; and when I asked if they had worked on
it since then, I learned that they had not woi-ked on it since then. "We
believe that there are those who seek to delay and stall, rather than
move ahead in some really basic and intelligent way .

If you know of a better way to clo it, I think that the time to move
is of the essence. Really, I think that we all have been guilty of waiting
too long. One of my hopes was that we were getting more people to
vote in a Presidential election year; but I now realize that it might
have had the opposite effect. This question of how any registrants
might vote ought never to be raised in the Senate cloakroom, as it was,
and — I am sure — in other places, too ; because that was the reason why
we had the registration laws to begin with.
Ms. Lawton. Exactly.

The Chairman. Registration of votei's after the Civil War was
designed deliberately to pre\^ent some people from voting, because you
were afraid they might vote.

Ms. Lawton. Of course, I was not here then.. Senator. [Audible

The CuAinMAN. I don't mean you ; I mean those votei-s. Therefore,
that, too, cast a shadow over any efforts to delay — and that was more
than 100 years ago. Of course, they then had many other reasons, but
some of them were wrong reasons.

The League of Legal Voters testified here I14 years ago tliat it
got busy with this question after its demise in the last Congress. They
put all their chapters to work on it; and their conclusion was — and I
shall quote their conclusion :

That the registration system functions at all is a tribute to the sheer deter-
mination of citizens to overcome the inconveniences and obstacles.

And it was suggested in the Senate debate on this that, if a citizen
really is a good citizen, he is going to find a way to vote. I guess, you


can say that of anyone who is trying hard to vote. In our free society,
our citizens should not have to explain why they did not vote by
justifying the alibi that registering or voting was made too difficult
for them.

This comes back again to the lack of the essential wisdom to remedy
this situation, and I am referring to the suggestion that was made
here this morning that we need to know a great deal more about citi-
zens' motivations as they are related to this particular legislation.

Ms. Lawtox. It is not only their motivations that we are talking
about. Senator, but it is the effect of the legal reduction of barriei^s
of last year. :Maybe the law was not complied with. Maybe that is our
problem. Now, 1 am quite sure that we have some complaints on that
already. But, as the barriers came down to some extent last year, so
did the voting percentages. This is what we don't understand.

The Chairman. It will be difficult, I suppose, to jump to conclusions
from this particular recent election, which had many inequalities all
its own; and, as I understand from the polls at universities, they
showed a very substantial nonvoting. This very substantial nonvoting
figure was tliat of those who had intended to vote and were among
the more sophisticated, in many instances.

Thus, one would conclude from that — in following the cases of
one of the studies made by the universities — that the lack of motiva-
tion was a positive motivation, where a deliberate decision was made
not to vote; it was not the alibi "I could not get down to register."
We are making a mistake by associating that motivated group with
the group which in preceding elections had not voted because they were
not registered — although new laws were passed to make it easier — and
that therefore they did not come through.

I think, we are jumping too far to unvalidated conclusions in
regard to the relevancy of this last presidential election. Now, where
ani I off base hei-e in my suggestions ?

Ms. Lawton. Well,' I am not suggesting that you are "off base,"

The CiTAiRMAX. I really would like to know — to avoid making mis-
takes or mis judgments, or arriving at wrong conclusions; and it is
helpful to me to have you point out what is Avrong.

Ms. Lawtox. I think, it is true that there were many many factors.
Not only did you have this jjositive nonvoting that you referred to, but
you probably also had people who took the polls literally and said, "I
can't affect "it one way or the other, and why bother?". But, on the
other hand, I don't k'now how many of those people registered— not
maybe just for this election, but where there were State and local elec-
tions going on at the same time — how many of the nonvoting people
in the presidential election did vote in the State and local elections
that were going on, with the same machines and the same ballots ; and
how many of them registei-ed in States with permanent registration —
for the future ? Maybe I am not interested this year, but for the future.

What was the situation there? How much o'f a problem do we still
have with this bona fide residency in the registration of students?
I don't think we know that. We have State court cases and Federal
cases going in both directions. What was the fact in registering stu-
dents fast vear. nationwide ? What problems we have in that regard, I
don't know, because we have no computers programed on this.


But these, I tliink, are still questions — given all the peculiarities of
this last election — where we could learn something about the 1970 act
and the 1972 decision, to know what they did or did not provide.

The Chairman. I agree with yon on that. I agree with you com-
I)letely on this; and what I particularly want to say— and where I
difl'er, is that we ought to try to find out more about this. The act of
1970 never was intended to refer to this. It was addressed to other
questions. It made no pretense. We know they are there; we admit
they are there; and. I think, we ought to study more; and, after this
very modest beginning, we ought to find out how we can improve it.
This is the time for continuing the study.
Ms. Law^ton. Yes, sir.

The Chairman. We have marginal dimensions with no really meas-
urable known risks involved. It might help us improve the systems
We are not above any ci-iticism. But the burden of proof now rests
on the shoulders of those wdio seek to obstruct even minimal efforts
to try to impro\e a thing. But the record again and again suggests —
rather than erecting — theoretical fears that, in general, are speculative
in nature rather than substantive.

You had raised the question — as I think you should — as to fraud,
leaving aside the fact that fraud, if we deny to 30 or 40 million people
their vote because of an obstruction, is a very very large infraction.
But there are some people who use various procedures to achieve this

We ask ourselves where the fraud occurred, as some of the factors
presented here might not normally be present or true in many other
States' registration. For the first time, this committee was represented
at the national meeting of State-election-policy officials, and that ought
to be sufficient.

At this convention, when they opened up the question of fraud,
again and again they said that fraud occurs in elections when they
steal a ballot-box — (I don't want to mention the State) — which has
the votes; or when there is a fraudulent official whose fraud can be
conmiitted even without any system like this; and fraud will always
be committed, if you have a fraudulent official.

There was no significant incident anywhere of fraud as to insurance
policies — but that is rather iri-elevant. The fact, for the record, is
that — however impleasant and however unfair it is — they still collect
my income tax. It used to be a postcard, but now it is more compli-
cated and I enclose it in an envelope, and it is done by mail. But there
is nobody besides God and McGee that signs that personal affidavit,
affirming "As far as I know, this is true." We are not supposed to
make any err-ors ; but it works — it woi'ks.
]Ms. Lawton. It works well.

The Chairman. So, if you are talking about the lack of personal
confrontation, eyeball to eyeball, we have strained the daylights out
of that by thinking of it as a bogy or specter of fraud. The specter
of fraud here has no other significance except to aggravate. It does
not open up new fields of conquest for those who would commit frauds,
because all the postcard does is saying "I would like to register."

Two weeks ago, we had the Director of Elections here, and on
two other occasions we had Texas citizens here who testified to the
election system they used down there. But with the Texas postcard
system, the election official testified that they had no pattern of frauds


that emero;ed from the i^ostcard system. After that, it was carried even
fui-tlier, because they had coupons. The ''DaHas Morning; News'' would
stack them up in the street and lumd them out witli handbills. The
idea is to make it possible for someone to put it into the mail box
as the first step in registering, rather than having to go down to some
unknown place at an inconvenient hour to enable him to complete that

Now, Texas has approximately 11 million people. I do not know
how many of them vote, but I would suppose about -4 or 5 million;
but when we were looking out for fraud, there were no incidents of
fraud through the mails. They found some fraudulent cases that were
very much like some cases in other elections, because of fraudulent
election officials.

That was rather a persuasive record, it seems to me. as fraud occurs
in many places, but not here. It usually exists at the voting places
when the votes are counted or when the ballot boxes are not supervised ;
but it rearly occurs in the process of registration.

Ms. Lawton. Well, Texas has, I know, this registration system,
and I will assmne that it works; but I also assume that the State of
Texas was properly geared for it before it was put into eifect; it did
not come down from on high. But, if I may go back here for a minute
to your analogy to the Internal Revenue Services, I think, the reason
is fomid in the statute of limitations there.

It is true that there is little fraud in taxes — which is one of the
seven wonders of the world — but they also have 7 years to check.

The CiiAiRMAx. That wou.ld be entii-ely too late.

Ms. Lawton. They have 7 years to catch them.

The Chairman. It should be known the next day, if fraud was

Ms. Lawton. But they can catch you, because they have 7 years to
catch you ; whereas here it may be only 30 days, where in a State with
a huge population you have to check all the voters Avho registered by
mail. We are not saying that you cannot somehow minimize fraud —
you can never eliminate it, I concede that. We are concerned, although
we do not know and cannot state it as a fact, that 30 days may not
be enough for any State to validate that.

The Chairman. T^liat if a State's voting machinery collapses by
trying to enforce such voting requirements, such as long residency
requirements? The same argmnent should be made as to" those that
did commit fraud under the Voters Act of 1970 and the amendments.
As far as I know, this has not come to the attention of Congress. I
think, some of the votes are pretty lousy at times ; but that is irrelevant.

So here again, I think, you are playing games with us on this, be-
cause this does not give a man the ballot. This only starts his official
registration that can only be completed as his registration by the
officials of the State ; that is all.

Ms. Lawton. We recognize that. Senator, but what we are asking is :
Have you given the States enough time to complete the checking?

The Chairman. Under the Voters' Rights Act of 1970, they all said
the same thing, and there was testimony opposing the amendments,
but they did not make it. We were waiting for them to accept this
inconvenience ; but they don't want to do it, because they have never
done it before in that way; and we don't dare let that continue to be
the obstacle.


We did run into two or three secretaries of state, but they said they
did not know wliat to do, because they did not have a large enough
crew at the office to process this. I think that any voters processing
machinery in any State ought to finally surrender to 20th century up-
to-date procedures and produce the adequate personnel and provide
the necessary equipment. x\.ny officials who think they cannot manage
to do what is necessary to cope with the problem, physically or me-
chanically, can receive assistance on it. Of course, there are areas, iso-
lated areas, that have lots of other needs that may account for their
voting problems, but most of the heavily concentrated areas have
developed more efficient voting systems.

I have taken longer than I should, but I consider you OTie of our
ablest witnesses ; and, remembering that opposition to the bill, I took
a little more time to talk about it. Senator Fong, do you have any

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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 22 of 28)