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July 31, 1990 Policy

Motor Voter


American Bar Association

Standing Committee on Law and the Electoral Process

Report to the House of Delegates


BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Bar Association supports efforts to increase voter registration through state and local agencies that have direct contact with the public (e.g. licensing agencies); encourages efforts that make the opportunity to vote easy and convenient; and supports educational programs to teach all citizens, particularly youth, that voting is a responsibility as well as a privilege of citizenship.


There has been a continuing reduction in voter participation in the United States over the years with the fall off increasingly noticeable in Non-Presidential elections. The reasons given for this decline in voter participation have been thoroughly studied and various reasons and suggested solutions have been presented.

Suffice to say that the exact reasons for the failure of citizens to exercise their right to take part in the democratic process cannot be agreed upon by students of the problem.

This phenomenon is in the face of the increase in demands for democracy and public involvement throughout the rest of the world. As the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union stream to the polls, fewer and fewer Americans vote.

As a result of judicial and legislative action supported by the American Bar Association, most of the legal barriers to registration have been removed. The ability to register to vote has been opened to an increasing number of people. Get out the vote drives have been
instituted by both political parties and private associations. The American Bar Association has supported increased efforts to remove the barriers and to encourage voting by its own members and by all citizens.

There are several measures before the Congress to encourage voter registration, particularly by making available more and more locations for registration.

These proposals have been commonly entitled "motor voter" registration suggestions based on the opening of voter registration opportunities at motor vehicle and driver's licensing facilities. Some states have given the citizens the chance to register at almost every public agency.

Some authorities have declared that if voters are registered, they are then enabled to vote and will vote. While the data does not support this tenet one hundred percent, it is certain that if one is not registered, he or she cannot vote. This then is step one.

Following registration, the voter must be offered easy and convenient access to the polls. This includes not only those who are handicapped, but the elderly and infirm. Absentee voting has been encouraged by the ABA, the success of which is evidenced in no small way by the turnout of voters in the Armed Forces who use the mail ballot.

This opportunity should be extended to others who may find it inconvenient to reach the polling places on particular days or at the time that the polling places are open. Employers must be encouraged to offer the time and opportunity for employees to vote as the American Bar Association has encouraged its members to do for their employees and associates.

There are those who justifiably believe that the major reason for the paucity of voting in the United States is not the difficulty or inability to register nor is it the inconvenience of the polling place. There is reason to believe that the lessening of citizen involvement comes from a failure to accept the responsibilities of citizenship.

This failure on the part of present voters may not be totally remediable at this stage but there is an opportunity to inculcate in our youth the sense of civic responsibility which was once taught effectively. If the coming generations are to improve on the activities of present voters, it is time to Institute a major effort to encourage youth to become involved. Study after study has revealed the lack of knowledge of present day students of history, geography and government. Programs of simulated political activity and elections should be provided to give the background education which will develop in coming generations the public responsibility which is found lacking in many of today’s citizens of voting age.

Respectfully Submitted,
John Jay Douglass
1990 Annual Meeting