Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States

July 12, 2016

Automatic Registration is gaining traction quickly in the states. Prior to March 2015, no states automatically registered voters. Now, at least five states — California, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia — have authorized 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.

Automatic voter registration is the gold standard of modernized registration, and it builds on other reforms to bring voter registration to the 21st Century which are increasingly commonplace across the country. 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 voting bills under consideration across the country.

Elements of Modernized Voter Registration Are in Wide Use across the Country:

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 Modernized Registration Has Saved Money:

  • Modernization 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 modernization could reduce election costs by one third.
  • Canada fully recouped the cost of modernizing its 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.

Automatic Voter Registration and Other Modernizing Reforms Possible Now

The movement for automatic voter registration is thriving in the states, and other modernizing reforms continue to expand. 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 policy brief on automatic, permanent voter registration.
  • Please click here for a primer on the key policy points of automatic voter registration and other modernizing elements.
  • 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.

More on Automatic Voter Registration

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