Is it constitutional to unregister voters?
Oct. 21, 2011
By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer
Almost two decades ago, Congress passed a law known as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Its intent was to make it easier for citizens to have their say by participating in elections; the law required states to let individuals register to vote at the same time they registered for a driver’s license or for a renewal (hence its informal name, the Motor Voter Act).
The law also made it easier to voters to keep their registration valid by prohibiting states from removing voters from the rolls for failing to vote. But as concern over voter fraud has swelled in an era of close elections and tense recounts, some politicians are revisiting this issue.
In January, the Utah Legislature will take up a bill challenging Motor Voter’s limits on removing voters from the rolls. The proposal would allow the state to unregister voters who miss four consecutive general elections – in other words, who go more than eight years without voting – and don’t respond to a notice after the second general election.
So, if you were a registered Utah voter in 2010, but didn’t vote, and then sat out next year’s presidential election, you’d receive a warning from the state. If you ignored the notice, didn’t vote in 2014, and sat out the 2016 presidential race, you would be unregistered.
Rep. Kraig Powell of Utah endorses the bill; he told the Salt Lake Tribune that it is a good compromise between never removing any names from voter registration rolls, and more hastily unregistering voters if they miss elections. It keeps the books current, he says, and helps prevent fraud. Lawyers for the legislative committee that endorsed the bill say it is constitutional because voters would be removed for not responding to the warning, not for failing to vote.
Others disagree, saying not only does the bill violate Motor Voter, but it also violates the U.S. Constitution. A number of amendments to the Constitution protect the rights of citizens to vote, including the 15th Amendment (which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State” on the basis of race), the 24th Amendment (which outlawed poll taxes), and the 26th Amendment (which lowered the voting age to 18).
Rep. Brian King told the Salt Lake Tribune that Utah has the second-lowest voter turnout in the country, and this law could make it worse. “I am concerned that we are putting more and more barriers in place to voting,” he said.
What do you think?
Is it constitutional to unregister voters? Should states be able to protect from voter fraud by keeping their registration rolls up to date? Do you think Utah’s plan would give voters enough notice before removing them? What else might be a downside to unregister people who habitually don’t vote? Join the discussion!
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