Bringing Voter Registration into the 21st Century
Cosponsored by the Pew Center on the States
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As the gateway to voter participation, voter registration systems both allow participation from eligible voters and safeguard against ineligible Listen to Audio

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voters, protecting the integrity of elections. Despite its fundamental role, however, the current US voter registration system is costly, inefficient and frequently inaccurate. Significant voter registration problems in recent elections have reinforced the system’s shortcomings.

This event will feature two dynamic panel discussions with respected leaders on the need to bring the US voter registration system into the 21st century to better serve all Americans. The first panel will explain the problems posed by the current voter registration system, while the second will delve into potential solutions.


9:45 AM
10:00 AM
Panel 1: Problems with the Current Voter Registration System
MATTHEW DAMSCHRODER, Office of the Ohio Secretary of State
TREVOR POTTER, Caplin & Drysdale
CHARLES STEWART III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
JOHN C. FORTIER, AEI and Bipartisan Policy Center
11:00 AM
Panel 2: Potential Solutions
DAVID BECKER, Pew Center on the States
JOHN C. FORTIER, AEI and Bipartisan Policy Center
12:00 PM
Event Summary

WASHINGTON, SEPTEMBER 19, 2011--Some of the country's leading experts on voter registration, from a variety of areas of expertise, came together at AEI this morning to discuss the problems with and suggestions for improving the current US voter registration system. John Fortier of AEI and the Bipartisan Policy Center moderated the event, which was co-sponsored by the Pew Center on the States. On the first panel, Charles Stewart of MIT offered a brief history of voter registration in America, from pre-Civil War days to the present. The current system, he said, is "multi-agency" and "multi-purpose," with more agencies and third-party groups registering voters. Matt Damschroder, director of elections for the state of Ohio, agreed that the current system is problematic because it is paper-based and dependent on third parties to register voters, leading to errors on voter rolls. Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center (and veteran of two McCain presidential campaigns) explained that from a campaign's perspective, it's troubling that we are entering yet another election cycle without accurate voter lists, which undermines trust in our democracy. "Partisan warriors," he said, are the only people drafting solutions, and they do not trust the other side. AEI's Norm Ornstein kicked off the second panel by talking about the numerous databases that should be harnessed to improve voter rolls. David Becker of the Pew Center on the States presented a set of recommendations to enhance the voter registration system's accuracy and cost effectiveness, such as increased use of online registration. Jeff Butcher of IBM explained how more data mean more certainty about voter record accuracy, while stressing the importance of keeping voter information secure. Modernization of the US voter registration system could be one of the few areas on which conservatives and liberals can agree--a cost-effective, efficient system is in the best interests of both camps.




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Speaker Biographies

David Becker is the project director of election initiatives at the Pew Center on the States. He develops and executes strategic and operational plans for  Pew’s Election Initiatives team. Before coming to Pew, he served for seven years as a senior trial attorney with the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, enforcing federal voting laws and working closely with county and state election officials. He also worked for two years at People for the American Way, where he served as director of the Democracy Campaign.

Jeff Butcher
is a solution architect at IBM specializing in identity analytics. He has more than 25 years of experience in this field and has applied it to several industries including hospitality, banking, homeland security, social services and voter registration.

Matthew Damschroder is the deputy assistant secretary of state and director of elections for the state of Ohio. He is a former director of the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus and currently is deputy director of the Franklin County board. 

John C. Fortier is the director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center and an adjunct scholar at AEI. He studies American politics, the presidency, continuity of government, elections, the Electoral College, election reform and presidential succession and disability. He is a principal contributor to the AEI-Brookings Project on Redistricting and executive director of the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Fortier's books include Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises, and Perils (AEI Press, 2006); After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College (AEI Press, 2004, 3rd ed.); and Second-Term Blues: How George W. Bush Has Governed

(Brookings Institution Press, 2007). He is also a frequent radio and television commentator on the presidency, Congress and elections.

Norman J. Ornstein is a longtime observer of Congress and politics. He writes a weekly column for Roll Call and is an election analyst for CBS News. He also serves as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Project on Redistricting and as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law known as McCain-Feingold, which reformed the campaign-financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Oxford University Press, 2006, with Thomas E. Mann); and, most recently, Vital Statistics on Congress, 2008 (Brookings Institution Press, 2008, with Mr. Mann and Michael Malbin).

Trevor Potter is a member in Caplin & Drysdale's Washington, DC, office, where he leads the firm's Political Law practice. He is one of the country's best-known and most experienced campaign and election lawyers and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission. He served as general counsel to John McCain’s 2008 and 2000 presidential campaigns and deputy general counsel to George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign. He is the founding president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, DC–based nonprofit that focuses on campaign finance issues in the courts and before the Federal Election Commission. 

Charles Stewart III is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught since 1985. His research and teaching areas include congressional politics, elections and American political development. His current research about Congress touches on the historical development of committees, party leadership and Senate elections. Since 2001, he has been a member of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, a leading research effort that applies scientific analysis to questions about election technology, election administration and election reform.

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Cosponsored by the Pew Center on the States
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