Public Papers - 1992
Message to the Senate Returning Without Approval the National Voter Registration Act of 1992
To the Senate of the United States:
I am returning herewith without my approval S. 250, the ``National Voter Registration Act of 1992.''
This Administration strongly supports the goal of increasing participation in the electoral process. We have worked with leaders of both parties in an attempt to produce legislation that would accomplish that purpose. S. 250, however, would impose unnecessary, burdensome, expensive, and constitutionally questionable Federal regulation on the States in an area of traditional State authority. It would also expose the election process to an unacceptable risk of fraud and corruption without any reason to believe that it would increase electoral participation to any significant degree.
No justification has been demonstrated for the extensive procedural requirements -- and significant related costs -- imposed on the States by this bill. The proponents of S. 250 simply have not made the case that requiring the States to make voter registration easier will translate into increased voter participation at the polls. Indeed, a recent study by the Federal Election Commission suggests that registration requirements have no significant effect on participation rates. In addition, to the extent that State registration requirements discriminate against minority groups, the Voting Rights Act already provides an adequate remedy.
S. 250 would exempt from compliance with its requirements any State adopting an election day registration system. This exemption could create a compelling incentive for a State to adopt such a system, under which verification of voter eligibility is difficult. Thus, the bill would increase substantially the risk of voting fraud. It would not, however, provide sufficient authority for Federal law enforcement officials to respond to any resulting increases in election crime and public corruption.
It is critical that the States retain the authority to tailor voter registration procedures to unique local circumstances. S. 250 would prevent the States from doing this by forcing them to implement federally mandated and nationally standardized voter registration procedures. It would also restrict severely their ability to remove from the voter rolls the names of persons who have not voted in several years and who thus can be presumed fairly to have died or moved out of the jurisdiction. Enactment of S. 250 would deny the States their historic freedom to govern their own electoral processes and would contravene the important principles of federalism on which our country was founded.
S. 250 is constitutionally suspect. Although the Supreme Court has recognized that the Congress has general power to regulate Federal elections to the extent necessary to prevent fraud and preserve the integrity of the electoral process, there has been no suggestion that S. 250 would serve that goal. Nor has there been any showing that the bill is necessary to eliminate discriminatory practices. Accordingly, there is a serious constitutional question whether the Congress has the power to enact this legislation.
I support legislation that would assist the States in implementing appropriate reforms in order to make voter registration easier for the American public. I cannot, however, accept legislation that imposes an unnecessary and costly Federal regime on the States and that is, in addition, an open invitation to fraud and corruption.
For the reasons discussed above, I am returning S. 250 without my approval.
The White House,
July 2, 1992.