There’s a simple answer to why we register voters: the more voters we register, the more voters we can turn out on Election Day. But voter registration is also about ensuring that every American can be an active participant in our democracy.
Despite being a sacred right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the right to vote in our country is dependent on registration, a process which still creates a barrier to voting for many Americans. If you don’t have internet access at home, are unable to visit a city clerk’s office to pick up a form, or if your county doesn’t offer voter registration forms in languages other than English, it can be more difficult to register.
If you think barriers to voting are a coincidence, think again. For some voters, registering to vote can be a mild inconvenience, but for many Americans, securing their right to vote and ability to register has been a long fight throughout the history of our country. The history of laws designed to suppress voting along racial lines continues to this day.
Today’s racist voting laws come masked with other names. Some states require certain forms of ID to be able to register to vote. In many states, you need to already have a driver’s license or state ID to register to vote. Many states also purge citizens with felony convictions from the voting rolls - and then never let them back on. These policies disproportionately impact people of color, who are more likely to be arrested for low-level felony charges. Today, one out of every 13 African-Americans of voting age cannot vote because of these policies. You can read more about voter suppression laws in our guide Electoral Politics 101.
As a result, people of color face institutional barriers to voting. While the 15th and 19th Amendments finally gave black men and all women the constitutional right to vote, people of color continue to face institutional barriers to voting and are registered at lower rates than white Americans.
Low-income and young voters are also registered at lower rates. While political pundits on TV may claim that these lower voter registrations are the result of apathy, oftentimes lower income and younger Americans simply don’t know where or how to register to vote, or are intimidated by the process.
- Only 57.7% of Americans with family incomes of less than $10,000 are registered to vote, compared to 85.7% of Americans with family incomes of $150,000 or more.
- Registration rates are far lower among young people (55.4% for 18-24 year olds) than among their parents and grandparents (78.7% for 65-74 year olds).
In addition to strengthening democratic participation and fighting back against voter suppression, conducting voter registration is an excellent way to engage your group. Registering voters is a rewarding, fun, non-partisan activity. By hosting registration events, you’ll likely interest members of your group who haven’t come out to actions in the past and bring in new folks from your members’ networks.
Voter registration can also help you recruit new members and grow your group. You’ll meet a lot of new people while registering voters. Face-to-face conversations will always be the best way to develop meaningful connections when organizing. Registration events are a great opportunity to invite passersby to your next event. Though voter registration is a non-partisan activity, you can also engage the folks you’re helping to register in conversation. If it sounds like you share similar values with these folks, invite them to your next meeting or action! Make sure to have flyers for your group on hand during voter registration efforts so that you are prepared not only to register people to vote, but to invite them to be a part of the Indivisible movement.