Automatic Voter Registration
Nine states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration, and 32 states have introduced automatic registration proposals this year.
Automatic voter registration, a new reform that will modernize voter registration and dramatically increase registration rates, is gaining momentum around the country. Nine states and the District of Columbia have already approved the policy. So far in 2017, 32 states have introduced legislation to implement or expand automatic registration (and one more state has an AVR bill that carried over from 2016). A full breakdown of these bills, as well as those introduced in 2015 and 2016, is available below.
Automatic voter registration makes two transformative, yet simple, 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 create a seamless process that is more convenient and less error-prone for both voters and government officials. This policy boosts registration rates, cleans up the rolls, makes voting more convenient, and reduces the potential for voter fraud, all while lowering costs.
In March 2015, Oregon became the first to pass a breakthrough law to automatically register eligible citizens who have driver’s licenses (except those who decline). The state has already seen significant registration increases since implementing the policy in January 2016. California — with its estimated 6.6 million eligible but unregistered voters — was the next to pass automatic registration, adopting the policy in October 2015.
2016 was the biggest year yet for automatic registration. The West Virginia and Vermont legislatures passed automatic voter registration with strong bipartisan support, and both bills were promptly signed into law in April. Georgia began implementing an administratively-approved policy in the fall, and on November 1, the District of Columbia Council unanimously passed automatic registration legislation that the mayor signed the following month. The Illinois and New Jersey legislatures also approved automatic registration in 2016, but both bills were vetoed.
On November 8, 2016, Alaska voters directly approved the policy. 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. Eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote or have their existing registration information updated when they complete their annual PFD application, unless they decline.
Momentum for automatic registration has carried into 2017. Colorado approved the policy administratively and began implementing it at DMV offices this year. The Nevada legislature passed an automatic voter registration bill in March, but Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed it. Since the bill was originally introduced in the legislature through a citizen petition, it will now appear on the state’s 2018 general election ballot.
In July, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an automatic registration bill that the legislature had passed with substantial bipartisan support. The state’s unique approach requires that the reform be implemented at the DMV, but will expand to other state agencies when they have met standards to ensure they can verify voter eligibility requirements.
Illinois became the latest state to approve automatic registration in August, when Gov. Bruce Rauner — who vetoed a separate automatic registration bill last year — signed a bill that the legislature passed unanimously. Like Rhode Island’s reform, Illinois’ policy creates a framework for expanding automatic registration to state agencies beyond the DMV.
Automatic registration has also garnered attention at the national level. In February 2016, outgoing President Barack Obama called on legislators to “mak[e] automatic voter registration the new norm across America.” In June 2017, 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 group of lawmakers had also introduced an automatic registration bill during the previous legislative session.
For more information on why states should implement automatic voter registration, see The Case for Automatic Voter Registration. This report urges adoption of the four components of a permanent registration system, with automatic registration as its central plank. For in-depth answers describing how states can use existing technology to implement automatic registration, see Automatic and Permanent Voter Registration: How it Works.
*Legislation has been amended
2016 Automatic Voter Registration Bills Introduced
*Bills introduced in 2016 carry into the 2017 legislative session.
2015 Automatic Voter Registration Bills Introduced
|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 44; LA SB 258; LA HB 651; LA HR 132 (Passed by the House on June 10, 2015)*|
|Massachusetts||MA H 3937|
|Michigan||MI HB 4927; MI HB 4928; MI HB 4929|
|Minnesota||MN HF 1449; MN SF 1346|
|New Jersey||NJ A 4613 (Passed by the legislature, vetoed by the governor); NJ A 3432; NJ A 4446; NJ A 4500; NJ A 4574; NJ S 50; NJ S 2871; NJ S 2904; NJ S 2905 NJ S 3040|
|New York||NY S 5367; NY S 6075; NY A 6610|
|Ohio||OH SB 158; OH HB 181; OH 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 (Became law on February 18, 2017)|
|Wisconsin||WI SB 281; WI AB 379|
*LA HR 132 would have created a House subcommittee to examine and study automatic registration in Louisiana.