Elections, Fall 2012 Articles, Politics

Faculty and students differ in opinion on voter registration system

Aside from the presidential and gubernatorial elections, the Fall 2012 Pack Poll shed light on attitudes toward the American voter registration system. The United States is nearly alone in placing the burden of voter registration squarely on individuals. A recent PEW study found that just one in five democracies places the burden of registration on its citizens. Some reformers say universal voter registration will solve two problems: (1) cleaning up voter rolls that included millions of deceased individuals, and (2) shorten voting lines by making the process more efficient.) [source: Palm Beach Post]

The Fall Poll asked both faculty and students what rules they preferred. Respondents were asked whether they supported an automatic voter registration system or whether they supported the current system where registration is voluntary. A solid majority of faculty (67%) supported an automatic voter registration, but just 45% of students agreed.  Slightly more (48%) favored of the current system.

Faculty Viewpoints

Several faculty members were interviewed. NCSU history professor David Gilmartin said he believes the difference between students and faculty may come from embedded political ideology among students. According to Gilmartin, “I would guess opposition to automatic voter registration correlates to some degree with self-identification among students as ‘conservative’.”  Indeed, the Pack Poll finds two-thirds of students calling themselves Republicans are opposed to automatic voter registration, and the same percentage of Democrats favoring automatic voter registration.  Meanwhile, very few professors called themselves Republicans, thus explaining the divergent views.

Also, Gilmartin said some voters may not realize the role of historical and political forces in having “long created pressures for limiting the right to vote.” Gilmartin further attributes lack of support among students for automatic voter registration to individual responsibility as well as distrust towards the government. “Students think that the issue is largely one of personal responsibility, and that as voting is an individual choice, it ought to be up to individuals to get themselves registered … It may also be linked to suspicion of any government exercise of power.”

On the other hand, director of NCSU’s School of Public and International Affairs Richard Kearney sees faculty responses as a result of an aggregate wish for greater turnout in general.  “I think that in general, faculty are supportive of any change in voting that encourages people to actually cast ballots,” Kearney said. “Turnout should never be suppressed in the interest of partisan politics or as an electoral strategy.”

In comparison to presidential elections in other democracies such as the U.S. this year, countries under an automatic voter registration system have reaped greater turnout rates among voters than in the U.S. For example, France, also a constitutional republic, had close to an 80% turnout rate, whereas the U.S. had a 58% turnout rate this year. Records of various other countries under an automatic voter registration system, such as Germany and South Korea, display higher turnout rates among voters. In addition, Chile has just reformed its voter registration system to an automatic registration system in hopes of raising voter attendance at the polls.

“The key question is, ‘Are we a democracy or not? If we are, and wish to remain one, then voter turnout should be maximized,” Kearney said.

Whether the vision is to maximize voter turnout or to abide by ideology, the student body is divided by partisanship over this possible reform.  In this case, post-election reports around the world attest to automatic voter registration as a positive influence on turnout rates, but N.C. State students are not persuaded.



Fall 2012 Poll [download the data used]


  1. Christopher David

    I think that the gap between faculty and students can best be explained by which group has the best information, as opposed to party affiliation. Just as I trust my professors to know the subject they teach better than me, this is also the case.

    I am an older student who grew up in the Jim Crow south. We white students were taught many wrong lessons–most in my case came from sources other than my parents. Many were subtle and some were blatantly wrong. Regardless of origins, it is up to the individual to think critically and eliminate mislearned conceptions. Everytime I discover something I’ve wrongly thought, it is enlightening to me and feels good! There is no shame in admitting this–there is shame in holding on to wrong ideas.

  2. Well said Christopher!

  3. I’d be very curious to see a poll showing support of the voter ID laws that the GOP keeps putting up and will almost certainly put up here in North Carolina now that they have absolute control over our state government. They say that this law is to keep people who shouldn’t be voting from voting, yet the only real cases of widespread voter fraud to be discovered were in fact committed by the GOP. I personally believe the voter ID laws to be a form of poll tax and discrimination against lower income voters, who may not be able to afford the ID, or may just be too busy with their job to have an opportunity to get one. I could understand the idea of a voter ID law if we had an official federal-level mandatory form of identification like a lot of other countries have, but we don’t. Until the federal government begins automatically issuing its own form of photo identification, it seems to me that voter ID laws violate the Constitution.

  4. These “low income” individuals, along with every individual are required by law to carry a form of picture id in public (state requirement). Also, photo id is required to cash welfare check and use food stamps. There is a serious problem with illegals in this country and we shouldn’t be so quick to let them vote.

    As for your statement about widespread voter fraud only committed by GOP is a lie. Check out the case of the Obama supporter who also ran a polling place that voted twice with friends and relatives to make sure their votes counted. She admitted to it on a tv interview. What about the 6 districts in Phili that didn’t have a single vote cast for Romney even with thousands of registered republicans. There is vast corruption in both parties.

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