Why Do You Have To Register To Vote? Don't Forgo The Opportunity To Have A Say In This Election

As Election Day is rapidly approaching, many states' voter registration deadlines are passing. As many people know, if you do not register to vote by the designated deadline in your state of residency, you will be ineligible to vote in the elections on Nov. 8. While voter registration is a cornerstone of the U.S. political participation system, the reason why you have to register to vote is perhaps a bit less straightforward.

Fundamentally, voter registration exists to verify a person's eligibility to vote in an election. According to USA.gov, in the United States, you are eligible to vote in federal elections if all of the following apply: You are a citizen (either natural born or naturalized); you meet the residency requirements of your state; and you are 18 years old on or before Election Day.

The voter registration process exists to verify that voters meet the three above-described criteria. As part of the registration process, voters are required to provide their driver's license number or, if they do not have a driver's license, the last four digits of their social security number to verify their identify and eligibility. If voters do not have either one of those identifying documents, they can submit alternate identity documentation, though what qualifies as alternate documentation differs from state-to-state.

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The voter registration process in the United States is not without controversy. While arguably most people would consider it important to verify that only eligible individuals (i.e. over-18 Americans who are residents of the state in which they are voting) are participating in an election, there is often disagreement about the self-directed nature of voter registration in the United States.

In many other countries, voter registration occurs automatically, allowing citizens to be ready to vote in any election, should they choose to do so, without any individually-driven, pre-election registration required. Automatic registration in the United States could have significant ramifications; if people were automatically registered instead of having to pursue registration on their own, many more eligible voters would gain access to the polls. A recent study by Demos found that 51 million eligible voters in the United States — or one in four eligible voters — are not registered, often because of the bureaucratic and/or disenfranchising nature of the registration process.

Thus, proponents of changing the country's voter registration laws argue that, while registration is important to verify voter eligibility, it can be done in a streamlined way that puts the burden of verifying voter identity on the government rather than on people themselves — and, as a result, bring many more eligible voters to the polls.

Many states are already recognizing this notion and making the voter registration process easier and more automated. At least five states have now enacted automatic voter registration for licensed drivers, while 33 states have an option for electronic voter registration at DMVs. Furthermore, 15 states allow for same day voter registration at a voter's polling place on election day. Many states have also recently moved from paper to online registration, making the registration process less onerous.

While some states are taking steps to improve and simplify the voter registration process for Americans, the fact remains that the onus is still on the voters to ensure that they are registered to vote. And unfortunately, states widely differ in the level of bureaucracy and notice required for the registration process. Thus, check your state's requirements here and make sure you are registered to vote in what will surely be a defining election.