A Senate committee has approved the so-called "motor-voter" bill. The goal is to remove present state procedural and bureaucratic barriers to voter registration. That is commendable. it can be done at little or no cost to the hard-pressed states, it should be. But don't expect too much from it. Registration laws are not the reason for America's disgracefully low citizen participation rate in elections.
The Senate version would automatically register citizens to vote when they obtained or renewed a driver's license or change addresses. You could also register by mail and at many state and local offices, including libraries. Advocates of such reform // predict it would increase registration and turnout. There is evidence that it would do the former -- but not the latter, at least not by much. Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate says only about 10 percent of America's non-voters go fishing on Election Day because of registration obstacles.
Mr. Gans nonetheless supports easier registration on the theory that adding some 20 million citizens to the registration rolls would tend to mitigate the influence of special-interest voters. He believes that about 8 million of the new registrants would actually vote in presidential elections -- and that they would tend to vote out of general, not special, concerns. Since special-interest politics is a large part of what is wrong with government today, that is a pleasant prospect.