Most Americans – 59 percent — think everything possible should be done to make it easy for citizens to vote. Almost 80 percent say they oppose making voting mandatory. These are the results of a new survey from the Pew Research Center, which comes as partisan disputes over voting requirements continue in courts and legislatures across the country.
The poll shows a sharp partisan split over how easy it should be to cast a ballot. While 84 percent of Democrats favor making voting as easy as possible, only 35 percent of Republicans think that should be the case. Instead, 63 percent of Republicans — compared to 15 percent of Democrats — think citizens should prove they want to vote by registering in advance.
These differences over access to the ballot box underlie much of the ongoing debate over new voting laws and requirements. Democrats generally support measures such as allowing voters to register and vote on the same day, and automatic voter registration, while Republicans tend to favor strict identification laws to verify that voters are eligible.
Automatic voter registration is the latest effort by states to make voting more convenient. Eight states and the District of Columbia have either passed such measures already or are on the way to implementing it while numerous other states are considering them. With automatic voter registration, eligible residents are automatically signed up to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or some other government service, unless they opt out of registration. Advocates say it will expand the electorate at a time when voter participation is on the decline. Opponents worry that it could lead to fraudulent voting, by mistakenly registering those who are not eligible, such as non-citizens or felons.
Although the survey indicates strong support for such measures, there are some age and racial differences. More than 70 percent of adults under the age of 30 favor doing everything possible to make it easy to vote, compared with 54 percent of those age 50 and older. Almost 80 percent of blacks favor making it easier to vote, while only 54 percent of whites say the same.
Still, an overwhelming majority of Americans — 91 percent — view the right to vote as essential to their sense of freedom. On this, Democrats and Republicans agree, 96 percent to 91 percent, respectively. They also seem to agree that voting should not be made mandatory, as it is in some countries. Eighty two percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats say citizens should decide whether or not they want to vote.
The survey of 1,028 adults was conducted April 19-23. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent.