Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Schedule VR: The IRS Can Register Voters Just As Well As The DMV

New York Times op-ed:  The I.R.S. Can Register Voters Just as Well as the D.M.V. Maybe Better., Jeremy Bearer-Friend (George Washington) &

Income tax forms are notoriously complicated, but there is one simple question that is missing: “Would you like to register to vote in your home state?” With over 150 million American households filing federal income tax returns each year, our annual ritual of tax filing is a missed opportunity for voter registration.

While Americans are filling out their 1040s and Schedule Cs, they should also be asked if they would like to complete a voter registration form. The form, let’s call it a Schedule VR, would be separate from tax information, and would be available to all citizens, regardless of the amount of taxes paid or refunded. A Schedule VR would be the simplest way to create a national and nearly universal registration system.

There is good evidence that tax-time voter registration would work.

In Canada, annual income tax forms already offer voter registration. Overall, 96 percent of eligible voters appear on the Canadian voter registry, thanks in substantial part to the work of the Canada Revenue Agency. Elections Canada suggests that citizens “tick the box” every year on their income tax form to keep their address information up-to-date. By contrast, more than one in five eligible voters in the United States is not on the voter rolls. These unregistered voters are disproportionately likely to be young, to have lower incomes, and to be members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

Adding a voter registration option to tax filing has three major advantages: breadth, accuracy and convenience. Americans are conscientious taxpayers who see tax filing as an important civic responsibility; a Schedule VR would help ensure our voter rolls are correct and secure, with less paperwork for the citizenry. ...

Along with other legislation, like the urgently needed John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a Schedule VR would help counteract state efforts to restrict access to the ballot box. But even beyond the current political situation, we shouldn’t overlook a powerful tool we already have in hand to ensure that Americans have a reliable way to register to vote.

See also Jeremy Bearer-Friend & Vanessa Williamson, Tax-Time Voter Registration, 168 Tax Notes Fed. 1013 (Aug. 10, 2020)

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