Automatic Voter Registration

July 15, 2016

A new reform to modernize voter registration with the potential to dramatically increase registration rates is gaining momentum. Automatic voter registration has been approved in five states, and dozens more are considering following suit. Overall, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have considered measures in 2016 that would automatically register citizens who interact with government agencies and ensure that voter information is electronically and securely sent to election officials. (A full breakdown of bills that were introduced in both 2015 and 2016 is available below.)

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). 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.

In 2016, Vermont and West Virginia’s legislatures both passed automatic voter registration with strong bipartisan support and signed them into law in April. 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, and the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill — again, with strong bipartisan support — later that month, which has gone to the governor. 

The Garden State nearly joined these states: New Jersey’s legislature passed the Democracy Act, which, in addition to making other pro-voter reforms, would have automatically registered every driver’s license applicant, with an opportunity for those who did not wish to register to opt out. Gov. Christie vetoed that bill in November 2015. Had New Jersey joined California, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia in implementing automatic registration, 17 percent of the nation’s population would live in states with automatic registration. Learn more about New Jersey's automatic voter registration efforts here

Automatic registration is gaining momentum at the national level, as well. Automatic registration is gaining momentum at the national level, as well. In July 2016, Rep. Robert Brady introduced a bill  to automatically register eligible citizens to vote in federal elections when they interact with numerous state and federal government agencies; Sens. Patrick Leahy, Amy Klobuchar, and Dick Durbin cosponsored identical legislation in the Senate. This February, President Barack Obama called on legislators to “mak[e] automatic voter registration the new norm across America.” In a campaign speech in June 2015, Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced automatic, universal voter registration for eligible citizens once they turn 18, and Senator Bernie Sanders introduced an automatic registration bill in Congress in August. Senator Sanders’ bill was the second automatic registration bill introduced in Congress this year; in June, Rep. David Cicilline and 45 cosponsors introduced legislation requiring automatic registration for federal elections at all DMVs.

For more information on why states should implement automatic voter registration, see the recently released report, The Case for Automatic, Permanent Voter Registration. This report urges adoption of the four components of a permanent registration system, with automatic registration as its central plank. The Brennan Center has also published a companion document, Automatic and Permanent Voter Registration: How it Works, which provides in-depth answers explaining how states can use existing technology to implement automatic registration. 

As these reports explain, there are many ways in which states can implement automatic voter registration, and bills introduced this year vary in certain details - for instance, when and how an individual may opt out of registration. But all seek to reduce the burden on individual voters and instead require the government to ensure that eligible citizens are registered. Most bills are limited to the DMV, though several provide for automatic registration at social service agencies in addition to the DMV. Below is a list of bills providing for automatic registration.

2016 Automatic Voter Registration Bills Introduced

Location

Bill Number

United States US H.R. 5779, US S. 3252
Alaska Alaska Voter Registration Amendment*
Alabama AL HB 71AL HB 72AL HB 149AL HB 259
Arizona AZ SB 1007AZ SB 1260AZ SB 1342AZ SB 1392AZ HB 2097
Connecticut  CT HB 5514
Florida FL S 1016; FL H 1067
Hawaii HI SB 2165; HI SB 2214; HI SB 2259; HI HB 1593; HI HB 1633
Illinois IL HB 6211; IL SB 0250 (Passed in both Houses May 31, 2016)
Indiana IN SB 135; IN HB 1151
Iowa IA SF 2099; IA HF 2162; IA SF 2256
Louisiana LA HB 599
Maryland MD SB 19; MD SB 11; MD SB 350; MD HB 1007
Michigan MI SB 735
Missouri MO HB 1677; MO HB 1719; MO HB 1844; MO HB 2081; MO HB 2192; MO HB 2280; MO HB 2788
New Jersey NJ A 1944NJ A 2002NJ A 3726NJ S 1228NJ S 1998
New Mexico NM SB 2
New York  NY A 5972; NY A 10371NY S 2538
North Carolina NC H 1107NC S 854
Pennsylvania PA HB 1874
South Carolina SC H 4471
Tennessee  TN SB 1631TN HB 1724
Virginia VA SB 222; VA HB 67; VA HB 416; VA HB 1002
Washington WA SB 6379; WA HB 2682 (Passed by the House February 15, 2016)
West Virginia WV SB 142; WV HB 4013 (signed by the Governor on April 1, 2016)

* Alaska’s proposal is a ballot initiative, meaning residents will vote on the measure during the Aug. 2016 primary election.

2015 Automatic Voter Registration Bills Introduced

Location

Bill Number

United States HR 2694; US SB 1970*
Alabama AL HB 529
Arizona AZ HB 2434
Arkansas AR HB 1616
California CA AB 1461 (signed by the governor on October 10, 2015)
Georgia GA SB 31*; GA HB 665
Hawaii HI SB 150; HI HB 401; HI HB 489
Illinois IL HB 4208*; IL SB 2134
Louisiana LA SB 44LA SB 258; LA HB 651LA HR 132 (passed by the House on June 10, 2015)**
Massachusetts MA H 3937
Michigan MI HB 4927MI HB 4928MI HB 4929
Minnesota MN HF 1449; MN SF 1346
New Jersey NJ A 4613 (vetoed by the governor on Nov. 9, 2015); NJ A 3432NJ A 4446NJ A 4500NJ A 4574; NJ S 50; NJ S 2871NJ S 2904NJ S 2905 NJ S 3040
New York NY S 5367; NY S 6075NY A 6610
Ohio OH SB 158OH HB 181OH HB 179
Oregon OR HB 2177 (signed by the governor on March 16, 2015); OR HB 2059*  
Pennsylvania PA HB 1306*; PA SB 806*
South Carolina SC S 596; SC H 3978
Texas TX HB 3267; TX SB 1449
Vermont VT H 458 (signed by the governor on April 28, 2016)
Washington, D.C. DC LB 194
Wisconsin WI SB 281; WI AB 379

 

*United States SB 1970, Georgia SB 31, Illinois HB 4208, Oregon HB 2059, Pennsylvania HB 1306, and Pennsylvania SB 806 all provide for automatic registration at social service agencies in addition to the DMV.

** LA HR 132 creates a House subcommittee to examine and study automatic registration in Louisiana. The committee is composed of members of the legislature and will solicit communication from election officials and motor vehicle officers, among others.