Automatic Voter Registration Works Everywhere It’s Been Implemented

A new Brennan Center study shows that AVR increased registration rates in every state where the policy has gone into effect.

April 11, 2019

Automatic voter registration (AVR) has increased the average registration rates in every state where it’s been implemented, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center. In the first study of its kind, the Brennan Center analyzed the effects of AVR, a system in which eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote at agencies like the DMV unless they opt out.

Controlling for all other factors, the study shows that AVR has successfully increased voter registration rates in seven states and the District of Columbia. In short, automatic voter registration has chipped away at the antiquated obstacles to registering eligible citizens to vote.

“As we’ve said from the beginning: automatic voter registration works. It’s that simple,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We should be making it as easy as possible for eligible citizens to vote, and that begins with getting registered.”

Since no two AVR systems are exactly the same, the report provides a state-by-state breakdown of each state’s AVR system and the impact on registration rates after the policy went into effect.

Here are each jurisdiction’s percentage of increase in registrations:

  • Alaska: 33.7%
  • California: 26.8%
  • Colorado: 16.0%
  • Georgia: 93.7%
  • Oregon: 15.9%
  • Rhode Island: 47.4%
  • Vermont: 60.2%
  • Washington, DC: 9.4%

One factor that varies from state to state is when a person gets the opportunity to opt out of being registered: either during the transaction (sometimes called “point of service” or “front-end” opt-out) or later on via a letter in the mail (sometimes called “back-end” opt-out). The Brennan Center’s research shows that AVR increases the number of voters being registered regardless of whether voters are given the opt-out opportunity while at the agency or through a mailer some weeks later. The policy is effective in big and small states, as well as red and blue states.

“Through AVR, places like Georgia have nearly doubled the rate of voter registrations since this policy went into effect,” said Kevin Morris, a quantitative researcher at the Brennan Center. “But it’s not just the increase in registrations. AVR is a 21st-century policy proposal — other analyses show that it keeps voter rolls more accurate, which reduces errors that cause delays on Election Day, and it also lowers costs by allowing states to save money on printing, mailing, and data entry.”

Previous research has found states that implemented AVR have seen registration rates rise. However, that research has often failed to establish a causal relationship — that AVR, absent other factors, was responsible for the rise in registrations. The Brennan Center’s new report concludes that in every studied jurisdiction that implemented AVR, the policy boosted the number of registrations by a statistically significant degree.

The Brennan Center first developed this policy proposal more than a decade ago, and momentum has picked up in recent years.  Since 2015, fifteen states plus Washington, D.C. have passed AVR laws. In addition, AVR is a key component of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping package of legislation that passed the House of Representatives last month and was recently introduced in the Senate. On a national scale, AVR would add up to 50 million eligible voters to the rolls, save money, and increase accuracy. With the 2020 election approaching, repairing the country’s outdated registration systems is necessary.

Read the full Brennan Center report AVR Impact on State Voter Registration.

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