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What Do Voter Registration Numbers Mean?

Andrew Downs

Recently in class a student said that he did not know how to register to vote.  I directed him to  After I gave the web address, another student said he registered to vote that way.  The registered voter mentioned that he needed his driver’s license to register and the unregistered person said he would have to register later because he did not have his license with him.  I didn’t have a chance to ask the unregistered person if he completed the form before Indiana’s voter registration deadline on April 4th

This interaction was interesting for a few reasons. 

First, the students assumed that registering online was possible.  This has been possible for several years in Indiana, but it hasn’t been so long that we shouldn’t appreciate the fact that Indiana one of the first states to allow it. 

Second, even though it is easy to register to vote in Indiana, legal obstacles continue to exist.  There should be debates about what the legal obstacles should be.  In this case, the student didn’t have the required documents to register with him and that stopped him from registering at that time. 

Third, the students and I were having this conversation more than one month before Election Day, but it was just days before the deadline to register to vote in Indiana.  This year, the deadline to register to vote before the primary election was April 4th.  There is research that supports the belief that allowing voters to register to vote on Election Day would improve turnout.[1]  There are several states that allow Election Day registration.[2]

The registration deadline in Indiana gets discussed every election, but it gets special attention during presidential election years.  Part of the reason for this is that Indiana’s primary comes rather late in the presidential candidate nominating process and campaigns make the strategic decision to set up operations in Indiana after they begin to believe that the delegates from this state might matter.  In other words, there were few, if any, reasons for any of the candidates to set up offices in Indiana back in February, but now that the processes have spilled into April, May, and probably June, the campaigns have reason to do so.  Many of those operations won’t be fully functional until after the registration deadline. 

In 2008, there was quite a bit of excitement about the presidential nominating process.  In the first three months of that year, more than 156,000 new and updated registrations were submitted in Indiana.  That number dropped to nearly 134,000 in 2012.  This year the number is over 140,000.  These numbers suggest that as the perception that Indiana’s primary might matter goes up, so do registrations. 

There is other interesting information regarding voter registrations. Every year, there are thousands of people who are registered who submit a registration. Some of these registered voters know they are registered, but cannot remember if they updated the records after a move. Others think they need to register every year. Still others do not know, or cannot remember, if they are registered. In 2008, there were close to 9,500 duplicate registrations submitted in the first three months of the year. In 2012, the number jumped to close to 13,000. This year it is close to 16,000.

The increasing number of duplicates make me wonder two things.  First, how much of the increase is due to people taking advantage of the online registration which probably is the most convenient way to register.  (I can imagine someone watching the news (real or satirical) and being inspired to register at that very moment.)  Second, how much of this is due to the high registration rates in Indiana?  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people who are not registered and I know that there are people in the voter file who need to be removed, but the fact remains that it is much easier to register to vote today than in was in the recent and distant past.

Be sure to vote on primary election day, Tuesday May 3rd.  Or take advantage of early voting in your community and vote before May 3rd.   



Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.