Nevada passed legislation in 2019 that allowed residents to both register to vote and cast a ballot on election day. The question remains whether the added ease came at a cost, such as increased opportunity for fraud.
When lawmakers approved the change, Nevada joined more than 20 other states that allow residents to register and cast a ballot on the same day. Nearly all are in the western or midwestern U.S.
In states without same-day voter registration, residents must register in advance of elections, with deadlines varying by state, but usually falling between eight and 30 days before the election.
In Oregon, for example, the deadline to register is 21 days before an election. Previously, voter registration for Nevadans closed on the third Tuesday before an election.
Today the Silver State has some of the laxest voting laws in the nation.
Opposition to same-day voter registration centers on different issues:
- Fears that unregistered voters will go to one polling place on election day and register and cast ballots at that location, then travel to another polling place and repeat the process. Proponents argue that technology will make it harder for bad actors to attempt to manipulate the system in this manner.
- Worries that a sudden influx of individuals seeking to register and vote on election day could create a logistics logjam, as poll workers become overwhelmed by a throng of unanticipated new voters.
- Concerns that unscrupulous individuals could round up unregistered residents and bring them to polling places, where they would register and vote, in exchange for money or goods. It should be noted that this activity, while a regular staple of the rumor mill around election time, has rarely been verified.
Perhaps of greater concern is that those Nevadans who haven’t made the effort to register before an election won’t be well versed on the issues on the ballot.
As Matthew Gagnon, a former staffer for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote in the Bangor Daily News in 2011, same-day registration encourages ill-informed voting, and registering ahead of time shows that voters have put thought into casting ballots.
“The only people I want anywhere near a ballot box are those who have demonstrated they are actually invested enough in the process that they want to vote,” Gagnon wrote. “That is the flaw with same-day voter registration: most of the people it serves are unengaged in the process.”
Nationwide, several states have moved to same-day registration in recent years, but not all states have embraced the trend.
Last year, Montana, which had had same-day registration since 2004, moved its deadline for voters to register back to the day before an election. It also tightened its identification requirements for residents to cast a ballot.
Following passage of the changes in April 2021, Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen said, “ … voter ID and voter registration deadlines are best practices in protecting the integrity of elections.”
Indeed, shouldn’t that be the overriding concern in every election: to protect the integrity of each and every ballot cast?