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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 23 of 28)
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comments ?

Senator Fong. Yes, thank you. Ms. Lawton, I want to thank you
for coming here and for testifying to this bill. I w^as not here for the
last two meetings, but I think you were the only one who testified
against the bill, whereas all other witnesses who came before us have
been for it.

The Chairman. May I say to my colleague that we invited a great
many witnesses, but some of those folks did not show up, and this was
a reversal of the decision right here. That is why I felt I should discuss
it at some greater length while we have Ms. Lawton at witness here.

Senator Fong. I want to thank you, Ms. Lawton, for being here
to give us the other side of the story. This bill has been before us for
about a year and a half now, and the more I look at it, the stronger my
opposition gets against the bill.

Let me commend you for the very fine statement you have given us.
It shows that you have given a lot of thought to the bill and made a
lot of studies concerning this matter, and you have worked hard to do
it in your very meticulous manner, and for that I congratulate you,
as it fortifies my opposition to the bill.

The reason for not registering was demonstrably shown by the sur-
vey made by the Bureau of the Census in 1968 — I don't know whether
you consulted it or not — where 50,000 households, in November 1968,
were surveyed by the Bureau of the Census. This was not a Gallup
poll matter that surveyed 1,500 or 1,400 people, or any other survey
that you may recall of 1,000 or only 200 or 300 people, but a survey
of the people of the United States.

But here we have a situation of 50,000 households with a tre-
mendous number of people. Of the i>eople in these 50,000 households,
26,942 did not register to vote. The question asked of the voters, the
nonregistered voters, was: "Wliat was the main reason that you did
not vote or register to vote?" and the answers were the following: 10.6
percent said they did not vote because they were not citizens of the
United States and had not lived here long enough to be qualified to
vote.

There were 11.2 percent saying they did not like politics, or never got
around to register and were not interested. 53.3 percent said they wei-e
iust not interested in the elections or that they never liked politics.
Others gave other reasons, saying they were unable to register because
they were without transportation or could not take time off from work.



227

and these were 18 percent, 9.5 percent (rave other reasons for failing
to register; and 2 percent answered "I do not know."

Now, here you have a majority of these people, 53.3 percent, who said
they were not interested, never got around to register or did not like
politics. Now, this shows a lack of interest in the process of voting,
on tlie part of the American people; and I don't think that this bill
is going to help that situation very much, although it might make it
leasier for a person to register.

But you might find yourselves registering corpses whose names ap-
pear on tombstones, so' that you might have to go to all cemeteries to
eliminate the names of dead people that would appear on the regis-
tration lists. That is why the law requires that you appear in person to
sign when registering, so that we can see you sign your name in per-
son, and that may be accomplished at the supermarket, at the comer
lot, or at the city hall.

Coming back to the names that might have been copied from tomb-
stones—especially where you had only 30 days to check whether the
person who signed is alive or dead — this racket may constitute most of
the fraud occurring in one part of a State.

This may not be as important where you have a two-party State;
but in a one-party State, the fraudulent acts of just one irrational in-
dividual might cause to be registered many people who no longer
exist.

Now, in this bill — ^especially where you only have 30 days to check
to find out if a person is living or dead — I would say that the bill
goes too far. But I don't think that the distinguished chairman of
this committee, or I myself, would want to go as far as Nebraska, and
its rural sections, where citizens do not have to register, to vote.

The Chairman. Going to my own voting precinct is far enough for
me.

Senator Fong. You can do without registration in small towns, like
in Nebraska, where they see no need for registration, and this is pred-
icated on the idea that everybody knows everybody else in that area.
But in big cities we have to check on all people who are going to vote.
Actually, the real problem here is — are the registration laws or rules
and regulations of our States really so onerous that the individual who
wants to register cannot do so ? If these laws were too onerous, I am
sure that the Department of Justice would long ago have recom-
mended remedial laws. Would you say, if you found that a regulation
was so onerous that it kept qualified people from registering to vote,
that we ought to do away with it ?

Ms. Lawtox. It would certainly depend on the facts. If there is a
barrier to interstate travel, as in the Dunn case, certainly; or if there
is a racially discriminatory pattern on purpose behind it, yes. Totally,
I could not promise if we could succeed; but there is a good basis for

it in the 14th and 15th Amendments

Tlie Chairman. Yes.

Ms. Law^ton [continuing]. For actions challenging deliberate bar-
riers. The problem would arise probably where you have a State or
a county that applies a general barrier across the board. Then I am not
sure if we can make it a discrimination case. But if it really got so
onerous as to im])ede the right to vote, I would think so.

But we would have to have complaints to kno'w the factual situation.
The civil rights division is not large enough, and the voting rights sec-



228

tion is only a small part of it, and we could not go to every place to find
out. They have to come to us. Only then do we have a chance to find
some peg to hang our findings on.

Senator Fong. Has there been any criticism about registration offices
being closed to persons who wanted to register to vote ?

Ms. Lawton. I personally know of none ; but I could not say any-
thing with any certainty.

Senator Fong. You know of no incident where because of his race
a person had been barred?
Ms. Lawton. No ; we hope not.

Senator Fong. Anyone who is qualified to register can go to his
registration office during the hours that it is open ?

Ms. Lawton. As far as we know, yes.

Senator Fong. In most States it has been made relatively easy for
most people in the area to register. Do you have any opinion as to
registrars who might have gone to shopping centers to ask people to
register ?

Ms. Lawton. I couldn't say anything about that or be certain. I am
afraid that there may be some — in pockets — but statewide I don't
think so. This is what 'we don't know. But this is why I suggested that,
if there are such pockets, we do something about it. But I just don't
know.

Senator Fong. Now, this would impose a duplicate system on a
State; is that right?

Ms. Lawton. As I read it, they can still have their own State elec-
tions in their own way.

Senator Fong. In the case of one State, it would impose a Federal
type of procedure.

Ms. Lawton. Yes.

Senator Fong. And would you be forcing them to have something
new?

Ms. Laavton. Yes ; you are then adding something they did not have.

Senator Fong. As to small towns — if you force them to register in
certain States — you would actually have a duplicate system which the
Comptroller General has estimated at a cost of from $191 million to
$527 million.

Ms. Lawton. But, Senator, so as not to be misleading, that was on a
different bill — which was a bill broader than this — but, nevertheless,
it does indicate a substantial cost.

Senator Fong. You estimated $52 million to $134 million as the
approximate cost every year.

Ms. Lawton. On this ? Yes.

Senator Fong. In this Federal-State situation, there are certain
problems which will arise as to who will have the last say ; but when
you restrict the time limit to 30 days, you don't have sufficient oppor-
tunity to do it ; have you ?

Ms. Lawton. I think that there will be difficulties there, for just that
reason. Of course it depends on the polls and how large this voter-
administration grows to be, and whether it will have regional and
district offices, or whether its headquarters will be here in Washington.
That might have an impact ; but that isn't spelled out. But we are wor-
ried about the 30 days — not that we are encouraging pushing voter
registration to a longer duration



229

Senator Fong. I understand.

Ms. Lawton [continuinfi:]. But we are afraid that, with this arrange-
ment, there will be difficulties.

Senator Fong. Again I want to say. ^Is. Lawton, that we are grateful
for your giving us this infonnation. Thank you.

The Chairman. Have you heard in the justice Department of com-
plaints we received here in the connnittee of the unevenness of the
hours the courthouse stays open, or the unevenness as to a location
where registration is illegal'^ Are those things variable among the
various States?

Ms. Lawton. I have only a general newspaper reader's knowledge
of it, Senator. I cannot speak for any complaints the Department
received, as they will be channeled to the Civil Rights Division and
the voting rights section, and I don't know — I am sorry. I did not have
enough time. If we had had more time, I would have checked that.
But I don't know — I don't know what they have received.

The Chairman. This came up — I had it checked — in the testimony
at the last hearing, 18 months ago. It came up then, and obviously the
question is not a new one. Why don't you know ? You are stalling all
this time. Surely, some of you in the "Department could have started
addressing themselves to this question. That was brought up 18 months
ago. But here we are, 18 months later, and we still don't know. I would
say that at least it comes out as a negative answer to me.

Ms. Lawton. I can understand your reaction. Senator, but

The Chairman. You have other things to do ?

Ms. Lawton. The Civil Rights Division has many other things to do,
but it has not the manpower — nor the computer equipment.

The Chairman. That I imderstand. But you have plenty of money
to do it. You also do have responsibility when you come to this com-
mittee to respond with expertise on this question : and as nearly as I
can tell, you haven't raised a finger since the last time you expertly
testified on this question.

You are telling us that you are swamped doing other things, but we
think it should be incumbent upon us to move forward, if we can, and
do the best we can. Let me ask you just one more question : My fellow
Senator raised the question about duplicating the registration system.
Is there a duplicate registration system now 'I

Ms. Lawton. Unless the States have brought their own registra-
tion systems into conf omity with the Votmg Rights Act of 1970, yes,

there is.

The Chairman. It already exists?

Ms. Lawton. For those States that have not decided to opt for the

Federal, yes.

The Chairman. I will desist from asking you any other questions
now, Ms. Lawton, as Senator Brook is here now, who we have asked
to testify. We don't want to hold him up, as he has many other things
to do in" the Senate Office Building in connection with his position.

But I do like to thank you, personally, very very much, because you
were speaking correctly to these questions and some difficult assign-
ments that were dumpe'd on you and which you have gone through and
handled very well.

I hope that you will be back again with us, not before this com-
mittee or specifically on this question, but for obvious reasons, I hope
that you will be back again, as the Senate will probe with you this

91-577—73 16



230

question of voter motivations, which is disturbing, and is something
we have neglected all too long.

Thank you very much for being present here today.

Ms. Lawton". Thank you, Senator.

STATEMENT OF HON. BILL BEOCK, A ¥.S. SENATOR FROM THE

STATE OF TENNESSEE

The Chairman. Senator Brock, we are deeply grateful to you for
takine; the time and sharing with us your comments on this matter
that is pending here before us. You may go right ahead and proceed
in whatever way you prefer.

Senator Brock. Mr. Chairman, I am very grateful for your compli-
ments, and I would like, in turn, to compliment you, in your role as
Chairman, on the conduct and usefulness of these hearings in seek-
ing to expedite and simplify registration procedures for Federal and
local elections. I am particularly pleased to endorse what I consider to
be a very practical approach as voiced in S. 352, your bill on postcard
registration.

I don't think that S. 352 should be approached as a panacea for
the voters' apathy. One could conceive that voter apathy begins with
and can be attributed to the difficulty in reaching a registration point,
and the complexity of registration procedures.

It is easy to support a bill, or this bill, when one acts upon the as-
sumption that voting is a right and a duty of all Americans. At the
same time, there is nothing in the Constitution that says it is the duty
of the Federal Government — or any other governmental body — to
make voter registration a task in places where voting preparations
might be tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.

As others in favor of passing this bill have pointed out, ours is
the only country in the world that puts the onus of registration upon
the citizens. The most shocking manifestation of this fact, an evi-
denced in our last presidential election, are the 44 million voting age
citizens who were not registered.

This number of people is nearly equal to the total population of
the British Islands whose voters at elections average about 80 per-
cent ; but even that is not the best in Western Europe. Yet, it is con-
siderably higher than our 541^ percent of the voting age people's bal-
lots cast in the 1972 presidential election.

In my home State of Tennessee, I am sorry to say, we had a drop
from a 53 percent participation in the 1968 presidential election to a
44 percent participation of the voting age population in the 1972 presi-
dential election. This was more than a 9 percent drop. The increase
of unregistered but otherwise eligible voters for the same period of
time was nearly 5 percent.

I think we could fairly ask who this legislation would most bene-
fit. My answer is that it would benefit those people who would like
to vote and are eligible to vote by age and citizenshii?, but who are
otherwise ineligible to vote, for myriads of reasons.

Voting should not be a privilege for only those able to get to a regis-
trar's office, no matter how far it is from their homes or by what means
it is accessible, or what their physical or other impediments might be
to get to that office.



231

Votino; should not be a privilecre for only those whose time on a
work-a-day or night schedule makes them readily available in con-
junction with the operating hours or local registration procedures. The
rights, responsibilities, and obligations of the unregistered but other-
wise eligible voters are just as important and just as att'ected by the
outcome of our electoral process as those who do vote. However, their
enthusiasm for, and allegiance to, the system that puts the officeholders
into office and legislates the laws can be diminished by their lack of
participation.

I would now like to present for the record some statistics — with
sources — regarding how unregistered voters would have voted in past
elections and who the unregistered voters are. I might say, parentheti-
cally, that these statistics might be of particular interest to my own
party and, of course, I can cite just a couple of them for illustration:

This is a Gallup polling of August 1971. On the new voting — an
area in which I have a particular interest — in a projected contest
between the President and Mr. Muskie, if 42 percent of the new
votei-s voted, 35 percent would have voted for the President at that
time, and 48 percent for Mr. Muskie; but if 100 percent would have
voted, 39 percent would have voted for Nixon and 38 percentage for
]\Iuskie. The same was true in a contest between Mr. Nixon and Sena-
tor Humphrey, and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Lindsay.

In August 1972, Mr. Gallup ran another polling, projecting how
18-23 year olds might vote, if they were all registered. Among the
registered voters at the time, 41 percent favored Mr. Nixon and 57
percent favored Mr. McGovern; but of the unregistered, 46 percent
favored Mr. Nixon and 43 percent Mr. McGovern.

The Chairman. Forty-six percent voted, and 43 percent did not vote ?

Senator Brock. That is about right. Well, I think, we may have
done a little better than that.

The Chairman. Yes.

Senator Brock. These statistics go on and on and on. The non-
voters in 1948 would have voted 82 percent Democrats, but in 1956 —
■only 8 years later — it was only 28 percent. In other words, I don't
think any party can take solace or comfort in the current situation or
in a proposed situation.

The Chairman. According to your statistics on how college in-
structors and ])rofessors voted in the Presidential election, 88 per-
cent voted for McGovern and 12 percent for Nixon; but among the
students, he broke even with him ?

SenatoT- Brock. It shows you that the process of evolution con-
tinues as a democratic body politic.

The Chairman. As a university president for 23 years in Wyo-
ming, I at one time interviewed 10,000 former students of voting age,
and a breakdown of the polls from them showed that 2 out of 3 were
Eepublicans — but still there were some Democrats left in each class.

Senator Brock. You did an excellent job of instruction. [Laughter.]
I think it is also important that we point out that the nonvoters are
not just the poor and/or the black, and that is, I think, another
fiction that will affect this decision. Twenty-six percent of the white
popuhttion are unregistered ; 26 percent of the college graduates are un-
registered, and 29 percent of white-collar workers are unregistered
today.



232

These statistics are in my statement, but it is just phenomenal how
this misconception exists about their character and the type of people
they are who are not registered and the statement that they don't
care. I know better. I have spent the last 2 years in working with
young people and I saw their frustrations in trying to get registered,
when they had moved to another town because of a new job and could
not establish residency in either location ; and those who were at col-
lege had the same problem.

The bill would enable qualified electors to i-egister to vote in Federal
elections only — at least in a mandatory sense. Postcard registration
forms, containing appropriate State-law registration terms, will be
delivered to postal patrons 45 days before tlie close of the State- voter
registration. Qualified votei'S would mail those forms to State or local
election officials who continue to control election processes. I think that
is important that we may obtain a local control.

We may obtain local standaids and local criteria for local officials
in the process. State or local election officials would receive from the
Federal administration 100 percent of the cost of processing the cards.
Postcard registration forms will also be available at post offices, and
State, and Federal, or local governmental offices; and the bill would
give financial incentives to States to adopt the postcard registration
system for State and local elections. If adopted, the Federal voter
administration would pay 100 percent of the costs for processing the
cards, plus an incentive of 30 percent of that cost of processing, if
the State government would adopt the postcard format, on the State
and local level.

This incentive payment would provide local election officials with
financial assistance needed to cope with the present registration of
voters. The bill would strengthen any fraud-preventing efforts. Fed-
eral assistance would be available to any election officials for fraud
prevention. It authorizes action by the Attorney General against the
registration of individuals not qualified to vote ; and it pi'ovides crim-
inal penalties for violations.

The bill would create a Federal-administration machinery to collect,
analyze, and publish information concerning elections and provide
assistance to State and local officials handling the postcard-registra-
tion system. It allows for streamlining the registration procedure,
without altering State or local criteria or standards for eligibility;
and the implementation and management of the registration process
would be carried out at the local level.

I think that all of us recognize that no bill ever was perfect. Xo
bill has ever completely satisfied everyone. But I do think this is a
good step in the I'ight direction.

I shall be interested in an amendment guaranteeing the individual's
private rights — and I shall introduce such an amendment — by pro-
hibiting any disclosure of the individuals' names that are kept on
file by the national administration. This is not a criticism of voter lists
at the local level ; but I daresay the Federal Government should not
divulge the names. My amendment will allow only statistical data to
be made public.

I also plan to ask for incorporation in the bill of a statement regu-
lating the format, so as to prevent dual registi-ation in the post card
system. The amendment would mandate that a question the same as or
similar to the following would have to be answered on the post card :



233

"In the past 4 years, have you previoiisl}' registered in a place otlier
than where you are now living^ Yes or No — and if "Yes, where?"
In order that the card be accepted as valid, the question would have
to be answered; and there would be a penalty, of course, for perjury.

And finally, it is a pleasure to join the Senator from Wyoming who
is the sponsor of this legislation, t do believe that S. 352 should be con-
strued as tlie people's legislation and not as partisan. I do believe it
would increase voter participation and benefit more people. Needless
to say, I have my own ideas as to which party performs best. But,
regardless of that, I do urge my colleagues on both sides to take actions
speedily, so that we may hear the voices of more people and encourage
greater participation in and a more active concern for our elections.

The Chairman. Thank you very much for that statement. We like-
wise need more constructive suggestions concerning the bill.

Senator Brock. Thank you very much.

The Chairman. I think you cast before us a proper reflection by
saying that the group that this bill is aimed at is one of many types.
That is significant. But we do sometimes overreact and say it is only
the poor that are involved, when in reality there is no one who is not
involved in the implications of this bill. You made a sharp point by
saving that how the voters vote must never be our main consideration.
There is no measure to say how they might vote.

Senator Brock. That is right.

The Chairman. It is a new thing, and this simply represents the
fii-st step in registration, to eliminate disqualification of voters who
have not registered to vote.

Senator Brock. Senator, I may be an idealist, but I think the people
of this country lead the politicians — not the other way around. I hon-
estly believe that these 200 million people have sufficient character
and a sense of integritv and faith, so that their decision — if given the
facts — will be a sound one in their collective judgment; and I am
willing to have that judgTnent exercised and encouraged in every pos-
sil)]e way I can think of; and I think we shall all be the better off
for it.

The Chairman. That is a very good point. It should be the judg-
ment of 99 percent — it is a good idea and would prove the great
streuiifth of our system of getting the collective judgment of all our
people.

Senator Brock. That is right.

The Chairman. This is the key; and, as an individual Senator, I
would think twice about mo^dng too slowly in terms of what we owe
our people in our system, if we believe in it; and if we don't believe
that the average person ought to vot^, we ought to say so. But the
question remains : Could we get all to vote, even if we made registra-
tion and voting easier?

In one of the significant cases involved in the original bill, the case


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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 23 of 28)