Skip Navigation

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.

(Image: Mega­Pixel)