Cheh eyes same-day sign-up to vote

By Michael Drost
Published January 27th 2009 in The Washington Times
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh said Monday a committee appointed to address problems that arose during the fall elections will consider allowing same-day voter registration on Election Day.

Among the problems last fall: The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics posted incorrect results after the Sept. 9 primary as a result of an unusually large number of write-in ballots and did not post final results until long after the polls closed on Nov. 4.

"It's important that everyone eligible be able to vote, and that every ballot be counted, and we must do so efficiently and effectively," said Mrs. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chairwoman of the Council Board of Elections and Ethics Investigation Special Committee.

Nine states now have same-day registration.

"While voters want security and transparency, what they are really concerned about is convenience," said Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board, in Wisconsin, which allows Election Day registration and is ranked No. 2 in the country in voter turnout.

He also said same-day registration would increase voter turnout with no major cost increases to the board.

"Election Day registration will not cost more, so much as it will cost differently to implement," he said.

Eric Marshall, a campaign manager for the Voting Rights Project, said the average voter turnout in states with Election Day registration was 68 percent, versus 62 percent in states without it.

The hearing Monday was the committee's third and final. Mrs. Cheh was joined on the committee by Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. She said the group would submit its preliminary report and recommendations soon, but gave no specific date.

Mrs. Cheh also questioned elections-board members about such concerns as not creating meeting agendas in advance when discussing Election Day problems and not having a fully automated system to process voter-registration information from such agencies as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

During the 2009 primary, roughly 1,500 write-in ballots were counted, despite the absence of a write-in campaign, causing the board to release incorrect results.

Board members said the problem was a glitch in one of the District's voting machines.

During the Nov. 4 election, the board did not release the first count of election results until after 10:30 p.m., 2 1/2 hours after the polls had closed. The final count was not released until after 1:30 the following morning.

Sylvia Goldsberry Adams, director of the D.C. elections board, said, "For the most part, Election Day went smoothly" and an automated system is in the works and will be completed within six months.

"The reality is that elections are managed by humans, who are dependent on machines," she said.

Other options discussed during the meeting Monday included allowing no-excuse absentee voting, which proponents say would eliminate bureaucratic hurdles for those who wish to vote early.

Absentee voters in the District must have an excuse for not going to a polling place if they wish to have their ballot counted.