This coming Tuesday marks the 7th annual National Voter Registration Day. National Voter Registration Day was created as a national holiday to celebrate our democracy and increase voter registration and turnout. It was also created bring broad awareness of voter registration opportunities and celebrate voter participation, our primary way to influence democracy. In 2018, 865,015 registrations were completed through hundreds of local events. Unfortunately, millions of Americans still find themselves unable to vote because they do not know how to register, missed a registration deadline or did not update their registration.
League of Women Voters, the nation’s largest and longest-standing grassroots voter registration organization, believes every eligible voter should have a fair and equal opportunity to register to vote and to cast their ballot. Voter registration has been, and remains to be, a contentious issue in the United States. The Constitution left the determination of a voter’s qualifications to the individual states resulting in a patchwork of different rules and regulations that help or hinder eligible citizens.
Voter registration laws were originally created in the early 19th century to limit the influence foreign-born, transient individuals had on local government. These laws not only disenfranchised foreign-born people but poor citizens as well. By the First World War most states had enacted registration laws to avert conflicts between disenfranchised voters and election officials at the polls. Riots and violence were commonplace at polling places at the time. In the South, black Americans were often beaten or murdered while attempting to register. Little by little progress was made to increase the access to vote. Women’s suffrage was granted in 1919, Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924 and the voting age was lowered to 18 years of age in 1971.
Over time the federal government took a larger role in voter registration. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 federally enforced voting rights, suspended literacy tests and permitted federal examiners to investigate and prosecute discriminatory voter registration practices. In Mississippi, black voter registration went from less than 10% in 1964 to almost 60% in 1968. In 1993 the National Voter Registration Act was passed, which mandated that states allow citizens to register to vote by mail, at the DMV, or at local public offices. After the bill took effect 9 million new voters registered themselves. Currently, 37 plus the District of Columbia and Guam offer online voter registration. (Oklahoma is one of these states, though it’s currently limited to updating your name, address, or political affiliation.)
Throughout history people have fought and died for the right to vote but there is still work to be done. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, 24%, roughly 51 million, voting-eligible citizens are not registered, citing registration requirements contributing low voter participation and turnout. In Oklahoma, the 2018 gubernatorial race brought the highest voter turnout in 30 years with 56%. Additionally, Oklahoma is one of the least politically active states, ranking 39th in the nation on a scale that evaluates voter participation, per capita political contributions, civics education and voter accessibility.
You can take an active role in increasing voter registration by championing voter registration within your own networks. Talk to your friends, families, classmates, and coworkers about whether they are registered! You can also get involved and volunteer with local organizations on National Voter Registration Day or any time of the year. League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa works to increase voter access and education through registration drives, hosting candidate forums, publishing voter guides and more. You can learn more about volunteer or membership opportunities here. Take this National Voter Registration Day to bring awareness to the importance of voter registration and why exercising the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy.
For National Voter Registration Day 2019, the LWVMT will be at the following locations:
- Rudisill Regional Library, 1520 N Hartford Ave: 10am-2pm
- Martin Regional Library, 2601 S Garnett: 12pm-4pm
- Hardesty Regional Library, 8316 E 93rd St: 4pm-7pm