What's Old is New Again: The Nineteenth Century Voter Registration Debates and Lessons About Voter Identification Disputes
13 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2018 Last revised: 10 Jan 2020
Date Written: March 29, 2017
There is a raging debate over the administration of elections, which is undoubtedly familiar to many. There has been a significant increase in a particular kind of election law pertaining to how states go about administering elections. These laws have largely been promulgated by Republicans and target election fraud — actual or perceived — in an attempt to restore some integrity to the electoral process. Democrats, for the most part, have opposed these laws and often critiqued them as a kind of voter suppression tactic, one that disproportionately burdens racial minorities, the poor, and those who have recently moved into a precinct. Over the years, these positions have hardened into fairly partisan and seemingly intractable positions.
This story, of course, is also the story of the voter registration debates in late nineteenth century America.
This Article sketches that history and offers some general reasons why voter registration laws moved from controversial to generally-accepted. It then offers some comparisons to current controversies over voter identification laws. It concludes with potential lessons for the future administration of such laws and possible means of resolving seemingly intractable disputes.
Keywords: election law, voter registration, right to vote, voter identification, election history
JEL Classification: K00, K1, K19, K4, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation