The Real Crisis: 35 Percent of Americans Not Registered to Vote

We all know dogs don't vote.

But that fact is news to the right wing. They are using the story of a dead dog getting a voter registration application in the mail to fan the flames of -- you guessed it -- so-called "voter fraud."

Just as the Voter Participation Center (VPC) finished sending out over 5 million applications to prospective voters to encourage them to fill out these forms for their local election officials to review and process, an errant piece of mail went to a dog whose name was put on a magazine mailing list by his owner. And the conservative blogosphere lit up.

The story would be considered silly, the mistake predictable and forgivable when you are sending out millions of pieces of mail. But in the current toxic environment, partisans are determined to make it harder for Americans to register and vote than it was four years ago.

The right wing is manufacturing a bogus crisis, pouncing on the impossible scenario of a dog voting, to obscure the real crises in our democracy -- the fact that more than 35 percent of all eligible Americans -- over 73 million of us -- are not registered to vote, and that our voter registration system is in shambles and badly in need of an overhaul.

The registration crisis is even more apparent when we look at the three groups that are the focus of the VPC's registration work -- unmarried women, people of color and young people under 30 -- the groups most affected by new restrictive state voting laws. These constituencies make up the Rising American Electorate (RAE) -- 53 percent of the voting eligible population. But they are not registered and they do not turn out at anywhere near that strength. In fact, in 2010 they were more members of the RAE who were unregistered (46 million) than who voted. Right now, 60 percent of all unregistered Americans are RAE members. Their sheer numbers constitute an enormous challenge in our efforts to make our electorate a close reflection of our nation's population.

Adding to the complexity of the problem is the fact that there are serious and systemic problems with the state of state voter rolls and processes. According to the Pew Center on the States, America's voter registration system is "inaccurate, costly and inefficient... and plagued with errors." The research commissioned by the Pew Center on the States highlights the extent of the challenge:

Approximately 24 million -- one of every eight -- voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.

More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.

Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.

Clearly, our focus must be on enfranchising eligible voters and on helping the states improve the accuracy, cost effectiveness, and efficiency of their voting registration systems. And that's what we are doing at the Voter Participation Center where we have helped register more than one million Americans since 2004.

Even in an environment for civic engagement that has "gone to the dogs," we are continuing our work to make sure that more and more individuals are registered and vote. Today we helped 20,000 Americans participate in the registration process.