Researcher suggests way to keep mobile Americans from losing their right to vote

Movers could be real ''shakers'' if the high mobility of Americans were taken into account in voter registration reform, say researchers at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.

Millions more people would be drawn to the polls in each election if Americans who move from one home to another and become lost from the voting rolls were targeted by registrars, says Raymond Wolfinger, a UC professor of political science and director of the university's State Data Program.

One-sixth of all voting-age Americans move every year, he says, and they could be kept on the voter rolls if duplicates of Postal Service change-of-address forms could be used by state officials in charge of voter registration.

''Registration is virtually equivalent to voting,'' explains Professor Wolfinger, who has written books on the demographics of voters and is now using findings from his recent study on residential mobility and voter turnout to lobby for registration reform.

Wolfinger challenges the popular belief that the number of people who vote in US elections is very low compared to the turnout in other democratic nations. Although only 53 percent of the voting-age population in 1980 cast ballots, he notes that 87 percent of registered American voters typically do vote in elections.

While a lot of political energy is pumped into voter-registration drives, many registered voters could retain their right to vote if change-of-address forms were duplicated and used to shift their names from the rolls in one county or state to the rolls of another.

In the case of new voters, the notice would cause election officials to contact the mover for an initial registration.

The mobility of voters should not be be underestimated, suggests the report which was cowritten by Wolfinger and UC researchers Peverill Squire and David Glass. There were 40 million change-of-address forms filed with the US Postal Service last year, Professor Wolfinger says. US Census figures for 1981 show that 26.8 million people - 17 percent of the voting-age population - had moved in the previous year. Only 48 percent of those who had moved in the previous two years voted in 1980, compared with 65 percent of those who had not moved, he says.

No political party would appear to benefit more than another from registration of this population, he says. As a whole ''movers'' are younger than an ordinary cross section of Americans. But in areas such as income, education, race, party preference, level of political interest, and ideology, they are typical of what an ordinary cross section of Americans would show.

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