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Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., allow residents to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day. Some of these state policies stretch back to the 1970s.
Election officials take multiple steps to verify applications, including reviewing identity and residency documentation.
Voter fraud is rare, including for voters who use same-day registration.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is running for reelection and touting a plan that he says would prevent fraudulent elections.
Scott says he supports "maximum voter participation." But he opposes same-day voter registration and has alleged in the past that the practice invites voter fraud. Same-day registration is allowed in nearly half the states; some states have allowed it for decades.
"There must be no same-day registration, as this does not allow election officials to verify the validity and accuracy of voter information," said Scott’s Rescue America plan, which he unveiled in 2022 and is highlighting again as he launches his 2024 reelection bid.
Scott’s campaign team did not respond to our requests for his evidence about same-day registration, often called Election Day registration.
Our interviews with election officials and experts show that Scott’s statement is wrong. Election officials take steps to verify the identities of people registering to vote on Election Day.
"If anything, registering at the polls might be viewed more secure than other methods because it is done in person, under the watchful eyes of poll workers who are often representing both major political parties, and in a public venue where poll observers, journalists, and other voters are present," said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Commiting fraud in such a setting would be difficult and risky."
In a sweeping voting rights bill in 2021, Senate Democrats wanted to legalize same-day registration nationwide, but Republicans opposed the legislation, which eventually stalled.
States set voter registration laws. Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., allow residents to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This includes states led by Democrats and Republicans.
Many states allow people to register right at the polls; others require people to register at a clerk’s office. A couple of states limit same-day voter registration to early voting days; they don’t allow it on Election Day.
Some states allow people to update their addresses on Election Day but not register to vote for the first time. States such as Florida that don’t allow same-day registration give voters a registration deadline.
Same-day registration supporters say the practice removes barriers to voting and offers people a convenient way to register and vote, generally in one trip. Opponents say it adds work for election officials during their busiest time of year and poses a fraud risk. We have found that such fraud is rare.
Contrary to Scott’s claim, states take multiple steps during Election Day registration to ensure that only eligible people register to vote. Here are some of the checks in place:
Proof of residency and ID requirement: Voters must prove their identity — some states require a photo ID, and some allow other documentation, such as a utility bill. Voters must also provide proof of residency – again, a current driver's license or ID card is accepted in all states. In some states, documents such as a paycheck, lease or utility bill with a current address are acceptable for proving residence. A few states also permit already-registered voters to vouch for the residency of Election Day registrants.
Electronic poll books: In some states, election officials have access to an electronic list of registered voters to verify or update voter registration information.
Provisional ballots: Some states allow certain same-day registrants to vote only by provisional ballot, which requires additional vetting before it is counted.
Oaths and penalties: Some states require same-day registrants to sign an oath attesting that they’re providing accurate information. Voters who provide false information or commit fraud are subject to criminal charges, in some instances felonies.
Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that started same-day registration in the 1970s. During November’s midterm elections, about 8% of Wisconsin voters were same-day registrants. In Dane County, which includes Madison, most same-day registrations are done by people who are updating their registrations, including college students who moved dorms.
Same-day registration allows election officials to directly interact with people who have their relevant documents in hand.
"You see them in person — I would argue it's more secure," said Scott McDonell, clerk in Dane County.
Same-day registration has a higher threshold for identity verification than other registration methods, said Rachel Orey, an elections expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
For example, voters in New Mexico who register on Election Day must provide photo ID. But if they register by mail, they don’t have to submit a photo ID — just a copy of a current utility bill, paycheck or bank statement is acceptable.
We found only sporadic examples of same-day registration leading to fraud.
In 2016, a Wisconsin man was charged with election fraud for voting in the state’s presidential primary. The man was a lawful permanent resident, but not a U.S. citizen, so he was not legally eligible to vote or register on Election Day. A Wisconsin Government Accountability Board spokesperson at the time said that the agency had never encountered a similar case before, in decades of allowing Election Day voter registration.
Over the years in North Carolina, there were a handful of ineligible individuals, typically people serving felony sentences, who registered and voted during the early voting period, said Patrick Gannon, a state elections spokesperson.
Allegations of voter fraud aren’t unique to people who register on Election Day. Scott’s home state of Florida doesn’t allow same-day registration, but has occasionally charged people for unlawfully casting a ballot on behalf of a dead relative or for voting in Florida and in another state. Florida has also charged felons who have voted without regaining the right to do so.
Voter fraud cases typically add up to a tiny speck — less than 1% — of the millions of ballots cast in an election. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative group that opposes same-day registration, has a nationwide voter fraud database that shows about 1,400 proven instances of fraud stretching back to 1979.
Scott said same-day voter registration "does not allow election officials to verify the validity and accuracy of voter information."
Same-day voter registration has existed for nearly 50 years in a few states, and now nearly half the states allow it.
State laws direct election officials to verify a person’s qualifications to register and cast a ballot on Election Day. Some states count a ballot cast by same-day registrants as provisional until additional vetting takes place.
Voter fraud rarely happens, and when it has allegedly occurred, it hasn’t always been by a voter who used same-day registration.
Scott provided no evidence to back up his claim. We rate his statement False.
RELATED: Sen. Rick Scott on the Truth-O-Meter
Sen. Rick Scott, Rescue America website page about elections, Accessed Jan. 26, 2023
Sen. Rick Scott, Video about his Rescue America plan, Jan. 25, 2023
CNN, Sen. Rick Scott interview, (transcript accessed in Nexis) Nov. 8, 2021
Sen. Rick Scott op-ed in Fox News, Sen. Rick Scott: COVID changed everything this year – including voting. Here's how we restore trust, Nov. 10, 2020
National Conference of State Legislatures, Same-Day Voter Registration, Oct. 11, 2022
Sources New Mexico, Fears of voter fraud through same-day registration unbased, June 8, 2022
State of Idaho, Voting identification requirements, Accessed Jan. 30, 2023
Wisconsin Elections Commission, 2022 General Election Voting and Registration Statistics Report, Jan. 3, 2023
North Carolina State Board of Elections, Register in person during early voting, Accessed Jan. 30, 2023
New Mexico Secretary of State, Same-day registration, Accessed Jan. 30, 2023
Chippewa Herald, Local clerks: Voting twice isn't so nice, Sept. 3, 2020
Heritage Foundation, A Sampling of Recent Election Fraud Cases from Across the United States, Accessed Jan. 27, 2023
Lorraine Minnite preliminary report for Demos, Election Day registration, Covers 1999-2005
Email interview, Barry Burden, professor of American politics director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jan 26, 2023
Email interview, Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, Jan. 26, 2023
Email interview, Rachel Orey, associate director of the Bipartisan Policy Center Elections Project, Jan. 27, 2023
Email interview, Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU school of law, Jan. 26 2023
Telephone interview, Scott McDonell, clerk in Dane County, Wisconsin, Jan. 26, 2023
Email interview, Riley Vetterkind, Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesperson, Jan. 27, 2023
Email interview, Patrick Gannon, North Carolina State Board of Elections spokesperson, Jan. 26, 2023
Email interview, Chelsea Carattini, Idaho Secretary of State spokesperson, Jan. 27, 2023
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