Same-day voter registration

The Iowa Senate last night gave final legislative approval to a bill that would allow Iowans to register at the polls on Election Day.  Current state law requires registration 10 days in advance of an election.  (Radio Iowa story.)

There was an interesting debate on the issue, with Republicans arguing there will be widespread voter fraud (Senator Mark Zieman of Postville predicted "hanky panky" at the polls) and Democrats arguing it’s a matter of convenience and expanding voter participation. 

Here are the comments of one senator who told a story about the good old days:

Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines:  "You know, Senator Zieman (who is from Postville), you’re probably not as old as I am, but you were probably eligible to vote in 1970 I assume.  You know, Senator Zieman, when you voted in your county, you didn’t have to register. There was no voter registration in the rural counties.  The only place they had registration was in the larger cities because that’s where the Democrats lived.  You know, 1959 I went down to register.  You had to go from 8 to 5, during the day, downtown Des Moines and register.  If you wanted to register to vote, you had to take time off work or have a day off during the week. I don’t think that there was a lot of voter fraud then and I’m not going to ask you to yield because I think you trust your neighbors and the people that live in your county and they voted every year until 1972 and then we passed the statewide voter registration when computers finally came in.  This is just going back to where good people can go and vote if they decide to.  There’s people that haven’t made up their mind.  They think both parties are a bunch of idiots but the last couple of days they say ‘You know, one of these are less idiots than the other and so I think I’d better go vote’ and by gosh, they ought to have that opportunity and if if worked prior to 1972, it’ll certainly work now.  We’ve got a lot more safeguards now than we did then."

Senator Paul McKinley, a Republican from Chariton, responded:  "To Senator Dearden who said that registration was not required in the rural counties until 1970, I can’t say that I remember that but I do know that in the rural communities we were stable enough that virtually everybody knew everybody who was coming through the doros.  That isn’t the case now.  We have a very transient population and so in order to maintain the integrity of the voting system we do need to vertify that John or Phyllis is who they say they are.  I’ve always believed that voting was a sacred right but it carried with it certain persoanl responsibilities, regirstration being one of those responsibilities.  We should have the initiative to at least register and show we care."

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.