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.
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.