Making Democracy Work

Automatic Voter Registration

What is Automatic Voter Registration?

According to the Brennon Center, "Automatic voter registration makes two transformative changes to voter registration. Eligible citizens who interact with government agencies are registered to vote unless they decline, and agencies transfer voter-registration information electronically to election officials. These two changes would create a seamless process that will be more convenient and less error-prone for voters, agency staff, and election officials. This reform has the potential to boost registration rates, clean up the rolls, save money, make voting more convenient, and reduce the potential for voter fraud.

In March 2015, Oregon was the first to pass a breakthrough law to automatically register eligible citizens who have driver's licenses (except those who decline),and has already seen big registration increases. California's legislature passed a bill modeled on Oregon's law in September 2015, which was signed by the Governor in October. California estimates that the state has 6.6 million eligible but unregistered voters.

Vermont and West Virginia's legislatures both passed automatic voter registration with strong bipartisan support and signed them into law in April 2016. There have been many strong and bipartisan efforts across a majority of states to modernize voter registration. Connecticut approved automatic voter registration administratively in May.

In November 2016, Alaska became the latest state to approve automatic registration. Alaskans passed a ballot measure to institute automatic voter registration through the state's Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), a sum paid by the state to all eligible residents. Once the new system is implemented, eligible voters will be automatically registered to vote or have their existing registration information updated when they complete their annual PFD application, unless they decline.

Illinois and New Jersey nearly joined these states. In Illinois, the General Assembly passed a bill -- with many Democratic and Republican votes -- but it was vetoed by Governor Rauner. In the Garden State, Governor Christie vetoed the Democracy Act and an additional measure that passed the legislature, again with bipartisan support. Had Illinois and New Jersey joined Alaska, California, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia in implementing automatic registration, 22 percent of the nation's population would live in states with automatic registration."

Here's a good explanation from the Brennan Center.

Oregon's implentation of AVR serves as a model

Oregon's AVR has been implemented and their website with FAQs explains their process well. Please read this for clarification and for explaining AVR to others.

Oregon Motor Voter Act FAQ

LWV Charlottesville President, Deborah Brooks, on AVR

Deborah Brooks, President of the LWV of the Charlottesville area, wrote an article for their newsletter about the case for Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)

Automatic registration: eligible citizens who interact with government agencies are automatically registered to vote unless they actively decline. This means that voter information is electronically sent from the government agency (most often the DMV) directly to election officials or, in California, to the Secretary of State. It is a seamless process that is subject to fewer errors. It is a more efficient system which increases the voter rolls, cleans up the rolls, saves money, makes voting easier, and reduces voter fraud.

Read more here.

Which States have passed AVR?

There are six states (or 7 with DC) that have passed Automatic Voter Registration: Alaska, Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut, plus the District of COlumbia.

Which States Could Adopt Automatic Voter Registration Next? What are the advantages and disadvantages of voter registration?

LWV Florida and the Florida Secretary Of State: Automatic Voter Registration Requires A Serious Conversation

Voting rights activists wanted the governor to give people more time to sign up to vote after a hurricane threatened the state requiring an evacuation for some counties just days before the state's voter registration deadline. When the governor said no, groups like the League of Women Voters took their argument to court. Cecile Scoon is the president of the Bay County League.

"We were very, very concerned with the governor's statement that everyone had enough time to register when he was the very one who was protecting lives and asking people to leave. We felt since it came out of his mouth to tell people to leave their homes and leave their businesses and the different state offices where people could register were shut. It came from him. It should have come from him to allow people to register," Scoon says.

Read more about LWV Florida and AVR.

New Brennan Center Study: Bringing Voter Registration into the Digital Age

Bringing Voter Registration into the Digital Age

America's outdated voter registration needs improvement, but as technology has advanced, a growing number of states are using 21st century methods.

A total of 38 states now use electronic and/or online voter registration, nearly double the total from our last study five years ago, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. These systems boost registration rates, increase voter roll accuracy, and save money, the study found.

Electronic and online registration are two of the most popular modern methods of signing up voters, according to the report, which is based on interviews with more than 70 election officials nationwide.

Electronic registration is when a government agency -- in most cases, a department of motor vehicles office -- collects information and sends it digitally to election officials, instead of relying on paper forms. Online registration allows voters to submit their application over the Internet.

"No one should lose their vote because of registration problems due to outdated technology," reads Voter Registration in a Digital Age: 2015 Edition. "Electronic and online registration make voting more free, fair, and accessible to all eligible citizens. Other states should embrace these systems without delay."

National Conference of State Legislatures' Pros and Cons of AVR

Automatic voter registration can be seen as new, or it can be seen as an updated version of processes put in place by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

That law, also known as "motor voter," pioneered a new way of registering to vote in America. It required most states to provide citizens with an opportunity to register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver's license.

Now, states are taking this model one step further. Instead of giving someone the choice to register at the motor vehicle agency, some states automatically register that person to vote, unless the person decides to opt-out of voter registration.

As of December 8, 2016, six states and the District of Columbia have authorized automatic voter registration.

Read here for more from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Pew Center 2012 Report

According to the Pew Center's 2012 report, 1/4 Americans who are eligible to register to vote are not registered. More have flaws in their registration. Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade.