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 9 of 28)
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able goal that any State should shoot for.

But registering the person is only one part of the voter registration
effort. The maintenance of an accurate up-to-date list which is avail-
able to the public is of equal importance. In this day and age where
citizens of our country are moving throughout their respective States
and throughout our Nation, it is essential that we not only register
them, but that we develop methods for maintaining an accurate and
up-to-date list.

There has been much concern expressed for fraudulent voting. I
think in some instances right now there are built-in opportunities for
voter fraud within the lists currently existing. For example, in our
State, I stated that there will be 155,000 people registered for the
special election on March 6. Our State laws require that no person's
name be removed from the list unless he has not voted within a 4-year

Of our 155,000 registered voters, approximately 30,000 to 35,000
are no longer at the address of record, and cannot be located. This is of
great concern to our office. I am sure that the same applies in other
States throughout the Union.

We feel that the technology is in existence today to have the voters
list the most accurate and up-to-date list that the individual State has.
Certainly no list is more important.

Senator Kennedy was most gracious in his remarks. I might state
that it is relatively easy for the State of Alaska with 155,000 people
on the voter registration lists to computerize our program completely.


Much of the expertise has come from States such as South Carolina
and Delaware who led the way in this field.

We are now attempting to take a step forward from just the com-
puterization of the list and develop what we call an on line voter regis-
tration program. We are currently engaging Arthur Young & Co. of
San Francisco to look into the feasibility of this program.

Simply stated, it would be much like the function, the average
citizen performs when he walks up to an airline reservation counter.
If you are requesting a reservation on United flight 2132 to Seattle,
the ticket agent does not write out your request and send it in the mail.
If he did this, you would be waiting 4 or 5 days or possibly longer be-
fore your reservation could be mailed to you.

They simply inquire into the computer whether space is available
on that aircraft.. The same thing could be done with voter registration.
Say Senator Stevens wanted to walk into our Anchorage office and
change his address. We would simply enter the system by a key. I
for one believe that that key could well be the person's social security

The Chairman. You would not require that they be searched and
checked in other ways before they get into the voting booth ?

Lieutenant Governor Boucher. Absolutely not, sir. In fact we hope
to go out into the street to get them in.

The computer can simply respond to whether that person was
registered in the State. If so, the register could then change his address.
This correction could then be fed back immediately into the system.
I know after reading the testimony before this committee last Con-
gress there have been those who have referred to the computerization
of election lists as big brother. Certainly this is a valid concern in some
areas. However I think that as our population expands, and as we
move toward the year 2000, the need for instant information and
more accurate data on the electorate is going to pave the way for more

The technology is here. The Congress has taken the first step toward
the recognition that indeed the entire election process in our country,
and not just registration, is in a sorry mess and is badly in need of a
total reform.

Senator Stevens. Let me interrupt. If we could do what you are
saying, then the census would be up to date every year for everyone
who is above voting age. That is really what we are talking about.
Lieutenant Governor Boucher. There could definitely be correla-
tions within the system. There are existing systems being used right
now that would tie these in. I do not propose to be the expert, but
there are the experts here — gentlemen who have devoted considerable
time, such as Eichard Carlson of the National Municipal Legislation
Dr. Eichard Smolka of American University, persons who for years
have been attempting to put something together to bring about election

I think that in summary the final thing we need to recognize is
that the right to vote is where our governmental system begins. Far
too often in the past the election officials have looked upon it as their
right to control and guide. I think that what is happening here in the
Congress of the L^nited States this year is a significant step forward


toward maximum participation by the eligible electorate of this coim-
try in the decisions which have to be made as we move toward the
year 2000.

The Chairman. I want to thank you, Ked, I will take the license

that Ted has used.

Lieutenant Governor Boucher. Please do.

The Chairman. But I do not want to yield to the next temptation
to say better Red than Ted or better Ted than Red. [Laughter.]

The Chairman. I want to say that you are to be complimented for
an enlightened approach to this problem at a level of responsible gov-
ernment where it is sometimes difficult to break through old fetishes
and release from old cliches so that the suggestions in your testimony
will be very helpful to the committee as we try to work out an equita-
ble approach here. We want to thank you very much.

Senator Stevens. I want to thank our Lieutenant Governor. He
stayed over in Washington, Mr. Chairman, so he could present the
views of our State and our people here today and I appreciate your


The Chairman. It is not a matter of courtesy. It is a matter of
learning what we can and you have something to offer us, your own
experience and expertise.

Lieutenant Governor Boucher. Thank you. Mr. Chairman. You can
be assured of our continuing efforts on behalf of this very imaginative
step forward by yourself. Senator Kennedy and Senator Stevens.

Senator Stevens. I would ask one question. I visited the State of
Oregon the other day. It is my understanding that the Louisiana
meeting of those who are involved in the voting process throughout
the 50 States has led to some recommendations from those who have
the frontline task and that you and the Secretary of State of Oregon
will undertake to try to get" a consensus from that meeting submitted
to the committee as soon as you can. Is that correct ?

Lieutenant Governor Boucher. Yes, sir. We are talking about the
year 1973. Would you believe this was the first national meeting of
election officials ever held in the history of our country for that
purpose ?

The Chairman. That is something. First it comments on how far
behind we have been, but secondly it does say there has finally been
a breakthrough. I must say this committee was represented very ef-
fectively down there. It would have been represented by me as well
but I spent 13 hours circling in airplanes that day between New York
and Washington and New Orleans and ended up in Charlotte, N.C.
We tried. The staff was officially represented there and they sorted
through an enormous amount of constructive suggestions from those
who really would have a large share of the burden of this problem.
There were divisions of opinion on it which also makes it healthy
because the problems are a little bit different in different areas and
therefore that is where you start, from when you try to assess what
you are going to do. But that was a breakthrough in itself for us
as well as we had an opportunity to meet with these people and are
meeting with them again and some of them will be submitting testi-
mony here for the committee.


Lieutenant Governor Boucher. I sincerely hope that the record re-
mains open so that as many of them as possible have the opportunity.

The Chairman. We will keep it open for that purpose.

The next witness is Mr. Richard Scammon, director of Elections
Research Center and former director of the Bureau of the Census.

It is nice to have you here again, Dick, and your professional ex-
pertise in this whole matter has placed you almost at a level unique
to you, and for that reason we are especially grateful that you share
with us your views on this.


Mr. Scammon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I have no formal statement. I would like if I may to comment on
some of the legislation which the committee is considering.

I think, however, before doing that, going back to the comments

of Senator Kennedy about the report made 10 years ago

The Chahiman. In 1963.

Mr. Scammon (continuing). In 1963, the report to President John
Kennedy, a considerable advance has been made in the adoption of
many of those recommendations, and I think in a general awareness
and general movement in this whole area which was not present 10
years ago.

Specifically I think one must recognize that the great inliibition in
American voting — we cannot duck the fact— is that voter registration
keeps our voting record as poor as it is.

I need not further belabor the points Senator Kennedy has made ;
they are valid ; they are well documented as to voter turnout in this

As he put it, you do not have to drag the voter kicking and scream-
ing to the polls, but you ought to provide at least that level of register-
ability that our Canadian and British friends give to their citizens.
It seems to me in this connection that the total abolition of all
requirements for voter registration, at least in rural communities,
in smaller towns, would be most helpful.

This is why, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect to your colleague.
Senator Stevens, and to Lieutenant Governor Boucher, I would not
regard the Alaska legislation in this matter as progressive.

Alaska had an open system of nonregistration in which 100 percent
of the people were eligible, because, like North Dakota, they required
no registration, and though one may get 80 or 90 percent of the people
to register it is less than 100 percent.

Senator Stevens. I would only make this comment to you. At that
time we had no registration system and we had very small participation
in the village areas. Today it looks as if we do not have the participa-
tion because of the large numbers of our people who are being regis-
tered very quickly, but I point out to you that we have gone up only
about 30^000 in population, and we increased registration by some
50,000 voters.


Mr. ScAMMON. But this would be a totally unique situation if the
increased voter turnout were without regard to some other eligibility
factors affecting the voter.

Senator Stevens. We have a very high turnover in our population.
I am sure you realize we have a very young population. It seems to
me that we have had greater voter participation since the registration
was required, even though the statistics do not look like it, because
we have identified our voters.

We are trying to, and I hope we will, restore a situation where we
have a combination of the old system and the new system.

We were one of the few States that had no registration system, and
year after year we had been cited by the Attorney General under the
Civil Eights Act. Now we have a registration system, and we can
demonstrate our endeavors to secure greater participation in our voting

I would rather have this system than the one you mentioned where
we registered at the polls by voting. Under that system the difficulty
was that there was no way for the League of Women Voters and the
various political entities to try to identify the people who had not
voted and to get to work and ask, "Are you going to go to the polls?"

Today we can do that, and I think that is going to bring our per-
centage to well above 65-70 percent next time.

Mr. ScAMMON. Your experience may be unique, but most of the
experience in America has been that the greatest obstacle to voter par-
ticipation is the requirement of registration in the first place.

Senator Stevens. What you do not see is that it is no difficulty
to register. We have registrars in the high schools, in the supermarkets,
registrars outside the movie theaters, outside the post offices in the

There are registrars who go from door to door. We increased our
registration phenomenally in the last year.

Mr. ScAMMON. Yes, and as I think Lieutenant Governor Boucher
said, it got up to 80 which is, of course, 20 less than 100, which is what
you have when you have no registration.

But let us have the unique character of Alaska apart ; the major
obstacle to development of a massive voter participation program has
been the very fact of registration.

This is why, as Senator Kennedy testified, by and large those
States in which there is no registration — North Dakota, et cetera —
or in which parts of the jurisdiction of the State have no registration,
have a much higher turnout.

The Chairman. The staff advises me in the North Dakota case
when it went over to registration at the time you vote, thus virtually
no registration except simultaneously, the voter turnout jumped 14

That would be due to circumstances that were unique. North Dakota,
as Alaska, does have some particular circumstances there that probably
do not pertain anywhere else.

Would that not be a fair generalization ?

Senator Stevens. Perhaps, but I hope you will not lose sight of
the goal that registration has to be tied into voter education.


I look to the Oregon example. I think of the costs involved in elec-
tions. I have been involved in four of them in the last 10 years, so
I know something about the costs in States such as ours.

It seems to me that the goal has to be the voter education concept
combined with registration. The Oregon system of assuring that every
registered voter has information in his or her hand before he or she
votes on every person and issue that is going to be listed on that
ballot when they go to the polls — that has to be a goal along with
registration. You cannot identify the people and be sure that you
have them provided with this type of information, unless you have
some kind of registration system.

I think if we look at the cost of television advertising and every-
thing else, those of us who are trying to reform elections are trying
to find some way to reduce those costs. The registration system will
reduce those costs for those people who want to put into effect a
good voter registration system.

I would call everybody's attention to the situation in Oregon. I wish
we could have something like that on the national level, a system to
insure that every voter is going to know something about the candi-
dates and issues before they go to the polls.

Mr. ScAMMON. In other words, the whole census technique of doing
it by mail, which was introduced in 1970, was not based on a prelisting
of individuals, and there would be no reason w4iy in the State of
Xorth Dakota you could not provide the same kind of voter education
on a household basis.

But I would not want to be led off into this because this is a re-
quirement of registration which w^e know is the present law in most
of the States, and it is not likely to be changed casually, because most
people do regard registration as a necessity because of the circum-
stances under which it first came into existence ; namely, fraud.

Back 100 years ago you did not have it. We did have turnouts. You
might say we had the high turnouts because you did not have regis-
tration, but there were other reasons as well. The fact of the matter
is the proposals made here, particularly those dealing with mail

The Chairman. M-a-i-1 ; or we will be in trouble here.

Mr. ScAMMOX. M-a-i-1; yes, mail application which would be dis-
tributed on a household basis would I think be helpful.

I think you have to be careful in claiming total response on this, and
I am sure you would not urge this was the case. There are areas, par-
ticularly among the very poor, the slums in the ghettos, which will
probably not be effectively touched until you have a house-to-house
canvass of the kind the census does every decade.

But certainly the use of a mail application form distributed in each
community and to each household before the election would not only
have this advantage of getting to people an opportunity to register;
it might even save some of the local jurisdictions some money, because
they would be able to apply more resources to the mail application
and less to other register devices which they now have to use.

Since every household is going to get these applications, the necessity
for maintaining expensive operations at the movie house or the
shopping center, by volunteer or paid registrar, or whatever, may
not be necessary.


Moreover, as you adopt the mail application, and as you do com-
puterization, eliminating signature comparison on election day, I think
again you have the effect of diminishing the scare monster of fraud,
and the more you can diminish that scare monster, the more you can
move eventually into a system of nonregistration in an increased
number of jurisdictions, a change which would normally bring in a
higher turnout of voters.

I think, Mr. Chairman, the committee, which as you have suggested
nearly secured the passage of this legislation last year would now have
with the experience in 1972 of the lower voter turnout, a real oppor-
tunity to maximize the capability of reaching into every American
household with information and with the facilities for registration.

Undoubtedly the house to house would do it better because you make
a house-to-house visitation, you do get everybody, but at least you are
giving everybody the opportunity to put themselves on record.

If you were willing to cost the checkout of duplications, remailings,
in order to insure you have not got an overregistration, and so on,
I should think it would be quite helpful.

The Chairman. One of the things, Dick, that we try also to keep in
front of us here is that there seems to be a declining incidence of voter
participation among the more sophisticated, at least I believe that is
reflected in the breakdown of the nonvoters in this last election. 1
suppose that has something to do with motivation, likewise with
apathy or indifference, that had nothing to do however with the
process of registration or the process of turning out votes door to door,
however else.

Would you comment on that.

Mr. ScAMMON. Well, the real dropoff is the one since 1960. For
example, when we gathered data together for the Kennedy Commis-
sion in 1963, if you take that same material today, you will find there
are many Northern States — I use northern bex^ause you did not have
in the Northern States that special disenf ranchisement problem of the
blacks that you had in some of the Southern States — there are States
in which the dropoff has been 10 or 15 percentage points.

In the voting population of a million, that means a dropoff of
100,000 or 150,000, and it is really a marked diminution.

There are many reasons you can suggest for this. Some suggest
because of television networks projecting election results early this
would have an effect, although in that case there should be a greater
dropoff in California than New York, but that is not the evidence.

The Chairman. Because they were afraid of how California was
going to vote.

Mr. ScAMMON. I doubt it.

Senator Stevens. I would question that. I would look at the per-
centage of people who registered to vote in California.

It is true that those who registered have a fairly good turnout, but
there is a decided dropoff' in the interest of people in California in
voting, and I think it is because of the fact that as you are going
home from work in California, you are told that the election is oyer.

I know that in some of the places out in my State, and in Hawaii —
Senator Fong is from there — the election is absolutely over by the
time they get home from work.


There is no incentive at all to participate in a national election.
Thank God we have local elections so they continue to have some
sort of interest.

But I would like to see a study where they have the Governors
elected in the offelection years, and the national elections are primarily
statewide, to see what happens in terms of voter apathy.

I am inclined to believe that television is one of the primary factors
in the diminution of interest throughout the country.

The Senate last year passed a bill which required polls to be opened
and closed at the same time, and prohibited any dissemination of
information until the polls were closed. Alaskans for instance, are
perfectly willing to start our voting process at strange hours in order
to prevent this. As far as the West is concerned, we are the farthest

Mr. ScAMMON. The data does not bear this out, but let me put it
this way. If people think this is true, this has the same impact.

But I would think there are other reasons too. For example, the
general diminution of the effectiveness of party organization com-
pared say to the 1890's would be a major factor here.

The party that got the people out, was often the party that won,
but the party system in many parts of America is almost nonexistent.

Second or third, in this instance the fact that the Governor is
elected for a 4-year term means you do not have Governors running
every 2 years, therefore they do not have their personal organization
at work during the presidential years in many of the States.

You get perhaps a matter of satisfaction or malaise and you can
take it either way on this. You can say everybody is so mad that they
do not vote, or everybody is so happy they do not vote. I think neither
is applicable totally.

The Chairman. You have illustrations in primaries where ap-
parently there was a substantial voter f alloff because they took it for
granted that the incumbent was home free, for example. I think we
do have evidence to that effect.

Mr. ScAMMOx. Here you get so much difference. For instance, in the
State of New York the primary turnout will be very small ; in some
States in the Midwest the turnout will be very large.

You also have an interesting coincidence of this dropoff with what
you might call massive metropolitanization. In other words, when you
rnove the people out of the smaller communities and out of the smaller
cities and into suburban areas, it may well be that you just have people
who are less immediately concerned with the political system, and have
less reason to participate in it.

All of these things are part of it, but it seems to me, Mr. Chairman,
on voter dropoff, the important figure is the dropoff since 1960, since
the Kennedy election, to the most recent one because there are so
many Northern States in which there has been a very marked change, a
very real political fact, circumstances in which the registration was
by and large liberalized so it should have been easier to vote in
1972 than in 1960.

It was easier in many jurisdictions, but the turnout dropped 10-15
points in many of these States.


Mail application seems to me a useful one of distributing to each
household a form by which they could identify themselves as electors.
I do not think it is going to solve the whole problem, but none of us
believes you approach a problem trying to solve everything.

I think it would be helpful, I think it would increase the number
of voters, and I think that it will attract to the electorate some who
simply for a variety of reasons have not been able to make the trip
registration requires.

The Chairman. It is easier to drop it in the mail than to buck
traffic o^ go after hours.

Mr. Scammon. Yes. As I say, interestingly enough, a system where
you find the local governments would actually save money — and I
am sure legislative proposals coming from Washington with the pos-
sibility of saving money might be well received

The Chairman. Yes. It depends on whose.

I have no questions at this time, but we pick your brains constantly
on this, and we thank you again for helping us.

I want to take special note here of the presence in the room of the
Hearst scholars from Hawaii. We have a special message from Senator
Hiram Fong who is the ranking minority member of this committee
and who works very closely with us on all of these measures.

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 9 of 28)