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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 4 of 28)
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has been for a long time in the Senate.

It is important that we come out with something here that takes
a meaningfid step forward.

I want to thank you again for all you have done on behalf of this
effort.

Senator Kennedy. Thank you.

The Chairman. I ask unanimous consent of the committee that we
put into the record a statement from the Senator from Utah, Senator
Moss, who is a member of this committee and who stepped in here
long enough to present his statement but who is chairing another
committee.

This is part of the price of turning the wheels of progress in the
U.S. Senate that we have many things going on simultaneously and
therefore we try to get as much of the record built as we can and
Senator Moss' statement will be made a part.

The record should show also that there are many cosponsors of
S. 352. We will put the list in the record of 17 cosponsors.

(As requested the prepared statement of Senator Moss follows:)



35



STATEMENT O.F SENATOR FRANK E, MOSS (D - UTAH)

UNITED STATES SENATE POST OFFICE AND CIVIL SERVICE COMMITTEE

FEBRUARY 7, 1973

SUBJECT: VOTER REGISTRATION: ELIMINATING THE OBSTACLE COURSE

Mr. Chairman:

The bills under discussion here today to establish a national
system of voter registration are two of the most innportant that have
bccii introduced in this session of Congress. For they concern the
[xjl'itical right - the right to vote - that is the very basis of our
democratic system of government.

It is a disturbing fact that in the recent presidential election
loss than 60 percent of those eligible to vote went to the polls to
exorcise thi,s right. This particular statistic is one that we will
h<^ar again and again in these hearings, and it is one that bears
I'fpcating. For it demonstrates that despite the great strides we
li.Tvc made throughout our history in broadening suffrage, American
fleniticracy has not yet fulfilled its promise.

One of the great impediments to increased voting participation
th,-\t still remains is our archaic system of voter registration. This
became abundantly clear during the hearings of this Committee last
session. In most states, the voter registration system is no inore
than a voter obstacle course. In some cases, the system was
designed at the turn of the century to discourage fraud. But today,
in almost every case, the system simply discourages the exercise
of the right to vote.



36



other Western democracies put us to shame. Most of them have
adopted registration systems that encourage their citizens to vote, and
as a result, most of them have a far greater number of citizens going
to the voting booths on election day.

Mr. Chairman, the arguments for the legislation proposed by
these bills are compelling. This Committee has made a diligent effort
to find ways to improve voter registration, and both bills contain sound
ideas culled from that effort.

In the past, the main argument put forward against changing
the present system has been that it would open up the door to
electoral fraud. Now certainly we should make every conceivable
effort to minimize the liklihood of fraud at the ballot box. Any
such practice is a blight on our democracy. 1 am convinced, however,
that the proposals under consideration would not lead to corruption
of the electoral process. In fact, the safeguards contained in these
bills will make the system much less susceptible to fraud.

It is not secret that on occasion in this country the electoral
process has been subject to manipulation by the unscrupulous few. In
many instances, the byzantine system of registration, whose purpose
is to prevent corruption, has in fact fostered it. This is not really
as paradoxical as it might seem. For when a system becomes so
intricate that it cannot be understood by the ordinary voter, it is
susceptible to manipulation. When this happens, the proper corrective



37



measure is to make the system more rational and comprehensible.

I should also like to point out the opportunities for vote fraud
that exist in a situation where vast numbers of people do not register
and vote. We all have heard of cases where votes are cast by dead
men. There have also been cases where living people have not voted,
but have had their votes cast for them. Certainly the most direct
way to minimize the chances of fraud is to see that a greater number
of people actually register and vote. In a democracy, we inevitably find
that the ultimate safeguard is the people themselves.

Mr. Chairman, I have dwelled at some length on this matter
of vote fraud because at one time it provided the rationale for our
present system of registration. Recently, the dangers of vote fraud
have frequently been cited by those who argue against the progressive
approach embodied in these bills. We should recognize that it is a
bogus argument, and make it clear that we will not buy it.

There is simply no good reason why Congress should not
move forward with legislation that will enable a greater number of
Americans to exercise the right to vote.



38

The Chairman. We have just been requested to add the names of
Senator Brock from Tennessee and Senator Bellmon from Oklahoma
also as cosponsors to the list. I will read the list because it may involve
the Senators from some of your States.

Senator Moss of Utah ; Senator Williams from New Jersey ; Ribi-
coff , Connecticut ; Mondale, Minnesota ; Eagleton, Missouri ; Burdick,
North Dakota; Hughes, Iowa; Muskie, Maine; Pell, Rhode Island;
Tunney, California; Hathaway, Maine; Chiles, Florida; Inouye,
Hawaii ; Humphrey, Minnesota ; Hart, Michigan ; and there has yet
been no effort to solicit the Senate for cosponsors.

If your Senator is not on there, he likely has not had time to have a
look at it yet and you can assist him in taking time to give it a look or
get on one of the "bills here that is pending because it is desperately
urgent that we act.

The next witness on the list this morning is the Honorable H. A.
Boucher, the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alaska. Let me say^
it is an honor to have you here, sir, this morning and it gives the largest
State in the Union the one-two punch at this particular moment.

Ted, why do you not introduce him.

Senator Stevens. Red is best known in Alaska as the former man-
ager of the Gold Fanners, the most successful baseball team in Alaska
until we founded the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. He has also been mayor
of the city of Fairbanks. He is Lieutenant Governor of the State of
Alaska and has really devoted himself to the registration programs,
particularly in regard to the younger voters of Alaska and in view of
the outcome

The Chairman. All voters in Alaska are young; nobody has lived
there that long.

Senator Stevens. We are all young at heart, anvway. But in view
of the outcome of the last election, I want to thank him publicly for his
efforts and welcome him here.

STATEMENT OF HON. H. A. BOUCHER, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

OF THE STATE OF ALASKA

Lieutenant Governor Boucher. Mr. Chairman, members of the com-
mittee, it is a great pleasure for me to be here before you today to
testify on the major voter registration bills, S. 352 and S. 472.

In ancient Greece, the word "idiocies" meant those who refused to
hold office. More generally, it connoted citizens who did not vote. The
English term "idiot" was derived from this word. The founders of the
United States spent months studying the democracy of classical Greece
before drafting the Constitution of the United States. They deter-
mined that voting and holding office were an inseparable part of
citizenship.

The first step in voting is registration. Approximately three out of
every 10 adults in the United States are not registered to vote. Twenty-
eight persons out of each 100 persons of voting age were not registered
for the 1972 presidential election. Of the 28 who were not registered,
11 answered in a Gallup poll that they either had not met residency re-
quirements or just had not bothered to vot€. The remaining 17 gave a
variety of excuses for their failure to register. Some had no excuse at



39

all. Although all figures are not yet available for 1972, the Census
Bureau found in 1968 that almost 3 million persons did not even know
whether they were registered.

In 1972, 26 million young people became eligible to vote for the first
time. This was considerably higher than the 12 million young people
who became eligible to vote in 1968. Liberalized voting age require-
ments and residency requirements, as well as upgraded voting registra-
tion efforts in many States were responsible for the increase. However,
41 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 failed to put their
names on voting lists. This was about twice the number of non-
registrants in any age bracket over 35.

These young people are far from the captives of any one political
ideology. They can and will have significant effects on the political
process in this country for years to come. This is a good thing, just as
it is a good thing that all eligible persons turn out to vote.

The importance of this concept of voter registration is evidenced by
the interest taken by both Houses of Congress last year and this. The
States too support this effort and will continue to display great interest
in the progress of Congress in this area.

Statistics indicate that over the long run, education has a great deal
to do with registration. Professional people are more likely to register
than any other group. Eighty percent of these persons are enrolled as
voters. Next are white collar workers with 77 percent. Down toward
the bottom of the list are those who work for wages. Only 68 percent of
these are registered — about the same as for unemployed persons (70
percent).

The extent to which Americans have failed to register is startling.
The extent to which they failed to vote is even more startling. Going
back several elections, 1 of every 3 citizens failed to vote in the 1964
presidential election. In 1968 there were more persons not voting than
the number required to reverse the outcome. In 29 States, the number
of non voters, had they gone to the polls and voted for Hubert Hum-
phrey, was large enough to have reversed the election. A study of the
non voters in 1972 revealed that :

Twenty-four million were registered but just did not bother to vote
or were prevented from doing so by residency requirements.

Eighteen million could have registered but did not because they
were "uninterested in politics."

Six million "did not like either candidate."

Six million were sick or disabled.

Four million persons were away from home.

Four million could not leave their job or were working two shifts.

The States with the greatest percentage of voters among those
persons of eligible age showed South Dakota at the top of the list with
70.7 percent followed by North Dakota with 69.9 percent, Utah with
69.4 percent and Montana with 69.1 percent. At the other end of the
scale 37.8 percent of the citizens of Georgia of voting age population
went to the polls in 1972 and the District of Columbia finished with a
low of 31.7 percent; 55.5 percent of eligible Alaskans, including mili-
tary personnel, voted in the 1972 presidential election.

How does this compare with the rest of the free world ? In elections
held on December 2, 1972, Australia lead the world with 97 percent



40

of its citizens voting. Australia encourages voting by fining those who
do not exercise the franchise. But other nations that do not do so also
have turnouts much higher than this country's. For example, Italy had
a 93-percent turnout last May ; West Germany had 91 percent ; New
Zealand 90 percent; the Netherlands 83 percent; France 77 percent;
Ireland 75 percent ; Canada 74 percent ; Great Britain 71 percent. Far
below was the United States with 55.6 percent last November.

The above figures concern the average voter. But what about the
lawmakers whodraf t the laws under which elections are conducted and
also the government officials who are charged with the responsibility
of running the elections? Historically, many election officials have
viewed government as a passive participant in the electoral process
with no responsibility for affecting the individual citizens. These of-
ficials apparently believe that the initiative has lain entirely with the
individual citizen. This would seem to suggest at least one reason why
62 million American did not vote in 1972. It would seem that if govern-
ment can find a citizen to tax him or to draft him into the military
service, is it not reasonable to assume that government can find that
same citizen to enroll him as an eligible voter and include him in the
active electorate ?

In a democratic society, among the most fundamental human rights
is the right of every citizen to vote. The vote is the very symbol of
democracy. It is the basic unit of our representative form of govern-
ment — ^the major vehicle through which the consent of the governed
is offered or withheld — ^the prime means by which the people can
express and effect their collective will. The right to vote, therefore,
necessarily carries with it the right of equal access for every eligible
citizen through the formal system of regulations and procedures by
which the vote is cast.

There is urgent need for administrative reform of our present
election system. Citizens must no longer be forced to earn the "privi-
lege" to vote. But rather they must be insured the right to vote.

The discretion granted to election officials under current legisla-
tion must be used for the purpose for which it was originally in-
tended—to give election administrators the margin of flexibility they
need to assure the access of all citizens to the ballot box. Most citizens
have shown little interest in the electoral process, not because they
dismiss its importance, but simply because they do not recognize the
extent to which the current election system impairs the right of all
Americans to engage in self-government.

The public generally believes that the system has worked well for
them in the past and that it will work well in the future. Regrettably,
however, the present election system has not worked well. It still bears
the mark of forces which originally gave birth to it at the turn of the
century — fear of the then widespread corruption and fraud at the
polls and a desire to control the voting participation of millions of
European immigrants who threatened the political status quo. Al-
though these particular forces have largely ceased to exist, the system
remains saddled with many unnecessarily restrictive laws and exclu-
sionary procedures. It has become an administrative maze in which
many "of the abuses it was designed to prevent can, in fact, be more
easily hidden and through which the average citizen must pamstak-



41

ingly grope in order to exercise his or her fundamental right to the
franchise.

Although the fear of fraud is often advanced in opposition to pro-
posed election reforms, such abuses are probably a function of com-
munity mores and will continue to exist in those communities where
they are prevalent no matter what reasonable election procedures are
established. More important is the fraud perpetuated on thousands of
Americans by a system which denies them the right to vote.

This fraud is even more egregious because it is perpetuated in the
name of preventing a few votes cast dishonestly. The relatively small
number of such dishonestly cast votes are probably far outweighed by
the many people who should be eligible but are disenfranchised in the
process.

The system works poorly for all Americans. It discriminates most
heavily against minorities, the poor, tlie uneducated, and the aged, who
cannot meet its complicated requirements. These groups are even fur-
ther excluded from the mainstream of American life because they are
excluded from the electoral process.

In the presidential election of 1972, 78 million Americans, or ap-
proximately 56 percent of the total population of voting age, actually
voted for a candidate of their choice ; 62 million or approximately 44
percent did not cast a ballot. This means President Nixon was elected
by roughly 33 percent of the voting age population.

These figures indicate that while eight out of 10 registered Ameri-
cans vote, only six out of 10 Americans of voting age exercise their
franchise. While 80 percent of Americans of voting age cast ballots
in 1876, before registration laws were adopted, 48 percent of voting
age Americans voted in 1924 after registration laws were adopted. As
the Gallup Poll concluded in 1969 :

It was not a lack of interest, but rather the residency and other registration
qualifications that proved to be the greatest barrier to widen voter participation
in our nation.

Although millions of American citizens fail to vote because they
are disenfranchised, many of them lose their right to vote not because
they are poor, black, uneducated, or uninterested, but because they are
a part of the mainstream of American society. These are the mobile
Americans. By moving to a better neighborhood, accepting a company
promotion and an attendant transfer, going to college, getting married,
serving their country, moving to a new State in search of a better life,
and exercising other fundamental rights, many people cannot vote.

Ten years ago, President Kennedy's Commission on Registration
Voting Participation pointed up the need to reform our national elec-
tion laws. Many others have since joined suit. Those of us who admin-
ister State elections systems have since faced a barrage of comments
and criticisms. The challenge has been particularly great because we
must meet a dual standard — to serve the public and also to administer
the election laws efficiently, economically, uniformally, and honestly.

The deficiencies pointed out by President Kennedy's Commission
still exist. Many voters are, as I have indicated, still disenfranchised.
Vote counting has been seriously delayed in many parts of the country.
The confidence of American citizens in their electoral process has been
severely damaged. Election-related costs have substantially increased.



42

In many areas of the country, there have been no voting machines
available at election time or those machines have malfunctions. Long
and slow lines of people must que up to vote. Ballots are misprinted.
Kegistration records become lost, misplaced or intentionally altered.
Tlie long ballot dissuades many potential voters. This is further ex-
acerbated by the straight party symbol in some States which discour-
ages ticket splitting and intelligent decisionmaking. Election laws have
become ever more complicated and inconsistent. It is no wonder the
results are frequently disputed, necessitating expensive recounts and
litigation. Redistricting and reapportionment have further compli-
cated the picture. It has been almost impossible to apply existing laws
and regulations unif ormally.

Moreover, many States have no single statewide elections adminis-
trator. Local governments are often charged with the administration
of election laws.

I believe that standardization and uniformity of administrative pro-
cedures and practices are absolutely necessary. This will require the
development of Federal guidelines, but not Federal election adminis-
tration or federally imposed detailed State administrative procedures.
Such guidelines should include increased professionalism in elections
administrations; public scrutiny of the system; delegated authority
over election conduct; the training of local elections officials; stand-
ardized registration forms; and uniform interpretation and applica-
tion of election laws.

I believe any Federal legislation should give the States the flexibility
they need to administer their election laws under the diverse circum-
stances in different areas of the country. Post cards may provide the
most efficient means of registration in certain areas. Door-to-door can-
vasing may be best in others. Additional registrars may be necessary
in still others. Other States may find it best to spend a great deal of
their money on voter education.

But each of these is only a different method to solve the primary
problem : Identification of the voter.

The most important problem facing the States in their administra-
tion of the election laws is to identify all eligible voters. By the same
token a corollary is the identification of those voters who are ineligible.

In Alaska out of 148,960 people registered as of October 29 last year,
20,000 to 25,000 have moved and left no forwarding address. Therefore,
although the registration figures indicate a 95- to 100-percent regis-
tration accordinjx to the 1970 census, in reality the figure is closer to 88
percent. Parenthetically, these figures are up from less than 100,000
registered voters only 2 years ago. This was quite a jump.

This dramatic rise in registration was no accident. Alaska has
undertaken an intensive registration effort in the last 2 years. We have
concentrated on registering Alaska Natives in the bush. This involves
village-to-villa.o-e efforts at personal registration. Deputy reo-istrars
who speak the local dialects are employed as are translators, Bilingiial
radio broadcasts urge villagers to register. The proq-ram has been
outstandingly successful, 85 to 90 percent of the villagers of rural
Alaska are now registered.

We have also instituted a high school registration program. Prior
to 1971, only 10 percent of the high school students were registered.



43

We have instituted intensive registration efforts in high schools
throughout the State, High school students have been appointed spe-
cial temporary registrars for their student bodies. This has received
great publicity and has been equally successful as the registration in
the bush program. About 90 percent of the eligible high school stu-
dents are now registered. This includes students in the classes of 1971,
1972, and 1973.

But both these Outreach programs involve more than post card
registration efforts. They involve intensive educational and publicity
efforts. They also indicate the need for flexibility according to the
situation facing the individual States. In how many States is a bilin-
gual registration in the bush program necessary ? But in Alaska uni-
versal registration would be impossible without such a program.

This is not to downgrade the importance of registration by mail.
Alaska uses a system of witnessed mail registration. However, no State
can rely entirely on registration by any one method. These Outreach
programs are only examples of the diverse methods followed in only
one State of the Union.

The major problem facing my office is the identification of eligible
voters. There is a similar problem facing every other State. One aspect
of the problem is the prevention of duplicate registration and voting.
If election materials are mailed out and returned "address unknown,"
this requires a correction of our files.

The major tool necessary to solve the problem is a computer hous-
ing a massive data bank. Alaska's list is now on a computer. The list
must be, as I have indicated, constantly updated — perhaps quarterly.
Ideally, this effort should take place m oft'-election years. Unfortu-
nately, as a practical matter, most of the corrective material is received
shortly before elections.

Each State should have such a data system. We envision an "on
line" voter registration program, similar to that utilized by the air-
lines in ticketing passengers. This could be used by deputy registrars
to change names, change addresses, change party affiliations, and regis-
ter new voters.

Each voter would receive an identification number, probably his
social security number. By encoding this information, it would be
possible for the State to interrogate the computer to determine if the
voter were registered elsewhere in the State. The voter would be given
a receipt of registration on the spot. At the same time the registrar
could ask the voter whether he was registered elsewhere and, if so,
make a notation to this effect. Because of the instantaneous nature of
this system, persons could be registered up to the last minute. Shortly
after the information was transmitted to the centralized data bank in
the State, the computer would be able to notify any other State reg-
istrar automatically that the voter wished to be stricken from the
voting list in his previous home State. This would prevent duplicate
registration.

Periodically, possibly once a month, the up-to-date master list, either



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 4 of 28)