Voter Registration Modernization in the States

April 28, 2016

The nation’s broken voter registration system is a major cause of long lines and Election Day chaos. Many states rely on a blizzard of paper records that are rife with error while leaving out eligible voters. The Brennan Center’s signature proposal to modernize voting would harness proven technology to ensure that every eligible voter is permanently registered. The move would add 50 million to the rolls, cost less, and curb the potential for fraud.

Already, 49 states and the District of Columbia — without fanfare or partisan wrangling — have moved forward with important elements of Voter Registration Modernization, including electronic registration at DMVs, online registration, Election Day registration, and portability. Additionally, many states are considering ways to modernize their systems. See here for efforts to move toward automatic voter registration, and here for other voting bills under consideration.

Each Component of VRM Is Currently Being Used Successfully in States Across the Country:

Automatic Registration

  • At least four states — CaliforniaOregon, Vermont, and West Virginia — have enacted laws providing for automatic voter registration at DMVs, in which eligible citizens who interact with the DMV will be added to the rolls unless they “opt out” of registration.

Electronic Registration


Election Day Correction

Online Registration

* Same Day Registration will no longer be in effect in Ohio as of June 1, 2014. 

Every State That Has Implemented Elements of VRM Has Saved Money:

  • VRM is a modest investment, and it will pay for itself, saving states millions of dollars a year.
  • Washington spent about $280K to implement electronic voter registration at DMVs and introduce online registration.  The Secretary of State’s office saved over $125K in the first year, and the counties saved even more.
  • Online registration cost Arizona less than $100K, and automating DMV registrations cost only an additional $30K.
  • In Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix), processing a paper voter registration form costs 83¢, compared to an average of 3¢ for applications received electronically from the DMV or through the online system. 
  • In 2008, Maricopa County saved data entry costs equivalent to the cost of eight full-time employees.
  • Delaware recently improved its electronic voter registration system at DMVs, saving over $200,000 a year from its election budget.
  • State election officials estimate that VRM could reduce election costs by one third.
  • Canada fully recouped the cost of its VRM system in one national election.

Electronic Transmission of Voter Registrations Increases Registration Rates:

  • In Washington and Kansas, the number of voter registration transactions at DMVs doubled after the system became electronic. 
  • In South Dakota, the number of registrations at DMVs increased almost eight-fold after implementing electronic voter registration. 
  • In Delaware, which implemented partial electronic voter registration at DMVs over a decade ago, 81% of all registrations come from DMVs, compared to 38% nationally.

Voter Registration Modernization Is Possible Now

The movement for voter registration modernization is thriving in the states.  State experiences show that voter registration modernization is feasible, cost-effective, and will save taxpayers millions of dollars each year. 

  • Please click here for a issue brief on Voter Registration for the 21st Century
  • Please click here for our latest report on paperless registration and how states have moved to modernize their voter registration systems.
  • Please click here for a PowerPoint presentation based on our report on paperless registration.
  • Please click here for a fact sheet on Voter Registration Modernization in the States.
  • Please click here for an issue brief detailing modernization momentum in the states.
  • Please click here for Components of a Bill to Modernize the Voter Registration System.

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