An unnecessary distraction

From the Solution Looking for a Problem Department, Olympia Bureau, comes this:

A bill that would allow voter registration up to 5 p.m. on Election Day. Apparently, requiring folks to register at least eight days before ballots are due is too onerous a hurdle. Who knew?

The opening section of HB 2204 (and its companion, SB 6127) attempts to explain its need, noting that in the 2008 presidential election, states with election-day registration had an average voter turnout of 69 percent, compared with 62 percent for other states.

What it fails to mention is that in Washington, where mail voting has made it marvelously easy to exercise one’s franchise, the 2008 turnout was 84.61 percent.

So much for that premise.

Rather than solving a problem, adopting Election-Day registration in Washington would actually introduce the potential for errors. This in a state that went through an awkward and ugly series of recounts and court battles after the 2004 race for governor ended in a virtual tie.

Millions were spent in the wake of Gregoire vs. Rossi to purge the state’s rolls of felons who had lost their voter eligibility, people who had died or who were registered in more than one county. A statewide database was created, preventing duplicate registrations and ensuring, as much as is humanly possible, that all the names on the voter rolls belong to eligible, registered voters. One would think — as do Secretary of State Sam Reed and the state’s county auditors — that reasonable registration deadlines, like the generous ones currently in place, enhance the voter rolls’ accuracy.

Allowing registration on Election Day, when auditor’s offices already are scrambling to help voters who lost or didn’t receive a ballot, creates the potential for overcrowded customer-service counters — a recipe for confusion and mistakes in what is, after all, an imperfect, human process.

Besides making it easier than any other state to vote (excepting Oregon, which also has all-mail voting), Washington gives folks an array of options for getting registered. You can even do so online, by printing out and mailing in a form. Plus, now you can register in person at your county auditor’s office up to eight days before the election — it used to be 15 days.

This appears to be part of a national effort by Democrats to get more college students voting. That’s a laudable goal, to be sure, but so is an orderly, error-free election process. Both can be maximized by organizing registration drives weeks before the election, on college campuses and elsewhere.

That would make better use of the energy being spent promoting a misguided bill.