Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is proposing legislation this year that would allow residents to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day, as he looks to join other Democratic-leaning states that are expanding voter access as a counterpoint to voter-identification laws passed in more conservative states.
The governor's proposal would allow residents to register and vote on the same day during early voting, but not on Election Day, and would add Maryland to 12 states and the District which have enacted some form of same-day voter registration.
A change is expected to increase voter turnout and is part of a push by many Democrats, including President Obama, to clear what they say are unnecessary roadblocks in the way of potential voters.
"Same-day voter registration is working in a number of states to boost both registration and turnout," said Maryland state Sen. Jamin B. "Jamie" Raskin, Montgomery Democrat. "The right to vote is fundamental and we should remove all obstacles to registration and voting that thwart people's ability to exercise their basic right as citizens."
Maryland, California and Connecticut, all blue states, are the most recent to push for same-day voter registration, but the practice is allowed in states across the political spectrum.
The District, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming all allow qualified voters to register and cast ballots on Election Day. California and Connecticut passed same-day registration laws last year but they have yet to take effect.
North Carolina and Ohio allow same-day voting only during the early voting period that precedes Election Day.
Studies have shown that states with same-day registration typically have higher voter turnout. A study by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board found that 15 percent of its voters in the 2008 general election registered to vote at their polling place on Election Day.
Democrats in some states have pursued same-day voting as a way to open up the process, and also have called for additional polling places and voting machines to accommodate large crowds that they believe act as a deterrent for voters.
In his inauguration address on Monday, Mr. Obama called the issue a civil rights obstacle.
"Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote," he said.
Opponents of measures to expand polling places and make voting more accessible argue that doing so brings added costs and less security, and that while the Constitution guarantees a right to vote, it does not guarantee a right to absolute convenience at the expense of other concerns.
Republicans have looked to overturn same-day registration in some states, on grounds that it overburdens poll workers and is vulnerable to registration at multiple polling places.
There were calls last fall by Wisconsin Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, to end same-day registration, but Mr. Walker backed off the issue last month after a Government Accountability Board report said it could cost $5.2 million to get rid of same-day voting.
Such a change would have required the state to begin offering residents a chance to register to vote when renewing their driver's licenses or applying for government assistance -- a policy that is required of states that don't have same-day voting by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the "motor-voter" act.
Barry Burden, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he doesn't buy the argument that same-day voting is more susceptible to fraud, but he acknowledged that it can lead to more hectic atmospheres at polling precincts.
"In my mind, registration at polls is more secure and has more integrity than registration at a third-party place," he said. "But especially when this is done by paper, there's just a lot of paper to process in a short period of time."
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