During a campaign stop in Illinois on Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decried efforts to simplify voter registration. He suggested that the higher voter turnout produced by such efforts is harmful to Republican candidates, and that Illinois' new same-day voter registration statute is a Democratic "trick."
Referring to Illinois joining other states -- including many Republican-led ones -- in passing a same-day voter registration law, Christie said: “Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get."
Christie was campaigning for Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who is challenging incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who signed the same-day registration bill into law in July. Rauner has threatened to address the state's fiscal problems by firing public employees and shutting down the state government.
Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, denounced the effort to boost voter turnout as an underhanded Democratic tactic. (The Illinois State Board of Elections is composed equally of Democrats and Republicans, according to the Chicago Tribune.)
According to data compiled by the think tank Demos, average voter turnout is more than 10 percent higher in states that allow citizens to register on the same day that they vote. Demos also notes that "four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered same-day registration." There was some evidence in Wisconsin that same-day registration boosted Democratic turnout, but the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison reports that "Republican areas also saw heavy use of the state’s last-minute registration law." The registration system been also been adopted by such deeply Republican states as Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.
It is rare for a national politician like Christie to suggest openly that programs to increase voter turnout are a partisan trick. Apart from being an anti-democratic argument against voter participation, that kind of comment appears to concede that a majority of people -- if they actually voted -- would support the other party.
Most Republicans who have fought voter turnout efforts like same-day registration have argued that such initiatives would increase voter fraud. This has allowed the GOP to position itself as battling crime -- not as trying to block legal voters. But the GOP has been unable to substantiate that voter-fraud claim, and there is actually overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Demos, for example, surveyed data from six states with same-day registration and found that "there has been very little voter fraud in [same-day registration] states over the past several election cycles." In GOP-dominated North Dakota -- which requires no voter registration at all -- Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger, a Republican, reported that "voter fraud has not been widespread in North Dakota" and that there have been "very few known incidents of voter fraud" in the state.
Those findings confirm a recent analysis of primary, general, special and municipal elections by Loyola University professor Justin Levitt. He found that since 2000, more than a billion ballots have been cast in the United States and there have been just 31 credible incidents of voter fraud in that time.