Detailed Reports Offer Guidelines for Permanent Voter Registration

June 19, 2009

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289

              Susan Lehman, 212-998-6318

Vital aspect of U.S. modernization plan would increase voter participation by millions

New York - Today, two new studies on voter registration for Americans who move show both the feasibility and need to modernize the voter registration system. Tens of millions of Americans move every year, and permanent registration throughout all states would dramatically increase voter participation by millions.

When Voters Move catalogs the hurdles many voters face when they change their address and reveals that the current protections for voters who move are typically too limited, not uniformly implemented, and confusing for both voters and election officials, preventing millions of eligible Americans from casting ballots that count.

>>Click here to download the report.

Permanent Voter Registration shows that voters and election officials need not experience these difficulties through an in-depth examination of eight states that have successfully implemented permanent voter registration, in addition to the eight states that offer Election Day registration for both new voters and voters who move.   

>>Click here to download the report.

The Brennan Center and other voting rights groups have urged Congress to consider legislation to modernize the U.S. voter registration system. Already, the Senate Rules Committee has held hearings on voter registration problems and is currently examining the issue.

"The millions of voters who move every year pose one of the biggest challenges to our electoral system," said Wendy Weiser, Director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Project. "Permanent registration, which is already in use in several states, follows a voter when she moves, creates less confusion, and reaffirms one of the most basic aspects of our democracy: the right to vote."

Recommendations for federal reforms include:

  • Congress should extend the limited form of permanent registration already required by federal law to require statewide permanent voter registration;
  • The U.S. Department of Justice should enforce state compliance with existing permanent registration requirements; and
  • Federal law should require that the U.S. Postal Service provide national change of address information to state election officials free of charge.

Recommendations for state reforms include:

  • States should automatically update voters' addresses by using change of address information submitted to other state agencies and the US Postal Service;
  • States should permit voters who move to make Election Day corrections to their registration information and to cast ballots that count; and
  • States should better train poll workers to respond to the issues facing movers.

"Given the mobility of our society, our advances in technology, and our national commitment to voting, we as a country can and should do better," says Myrna Pérez, attorney and author of When Voters Move.  "Many of the limitations on the rights afforded to voters who move are unnecessary and preventable.  States can and should reform their policies to ensure that all registered voters who move can vote."

"As these reports show, the technology and tools already exist to enable states to adopt a system of portable or permanent registration," says Adam Skaggs, attorney and co-author of Permanent Voter Registration. "Permanent registration is not only a good policy and practice; it also easily achievable."

Permanent Voter Registration and When Voters Move continue the Brennan Center's ongoing publication series on voter registration modernization. Last year the Brennan Center proposed a system in which the states would register all citizens, automatically and permanently to assure that registered voters who move within their states can vote. Earlier this week, the Brennan Center released Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World, a new study of twenty voter registration systems that shows that in nearly every democracy surveyed, government helps assure that every eligible citizen is registered to vote. In the coming weeks, the Center will release additional policy briefs on how the Selective Service system automatically registers young men for its purposes, and other topics. 

For more information or to set up an interview with Wendy Weiser, Adam Skaggs, Myrna Pérez, or Jonathan Blitzer, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu.

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