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New Study: Automatic Voter Registration Increases Registration Rates Across the Board

Automatic voter registration has led to a spike in average registration rates in every state where it’s been implemented, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

April 11, 2019

Bren­nan Center releases first-of-its-kind study show­ing AVR signi­fic­antly boos­ted the number of people being registered — with increases ranging from 9 to 94 percent

MEDIA CONTACT: Derek Rosen­feld; derek.rosen­; 646–292–8381

Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion has led to a spike in aver­age regis­tra­tion rates in every state where it’s been imple­men­ted, accord­ing to a new analysis by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law. In the first study of its kind, the Bren­nan Center analyzed the effects of auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (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. Our current voter regis­tra­tion systems are oner­ous and outdated. We’re at a moment of great reform, and our elec­tion systems are over­due for an upgrade. As states continue to enact restrict­ive voting laws, AVR is a needed change.”

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. Creat­ing a constant stream of updates between regis­tra­tion agen­cies and elec­tion offi­cials is bene­fi­cial for every­one from the people running elec­tions to the people cast­ing their ballots.”

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. This new report by the Bren­nan Center, using modern stat­ist­ical tools, 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 with fifteen states plus Wash­ing­ton, DC passing AVR laws since 2015. AVR is a key compon­ent of HR 1, the For the People Act, sweep­ing legis­la­tion that passed the House of Repres­ent­at­ives last month and was recently intro­duced in the Senate. As the coun­try heads toward the 2020 elec­tion, repair­ing our outdated regis­tra­tion systems is mandat­ory. On a national scale, AVR would add up to 50 million eligible voters to the rolls, save money, and increase accur­acy.

The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law is a nonpar­tisan law and policy insti­tute that works to reform, revital­ize – and when neces­sary, defend – our coun­try’s systems of demo­cracy and justice.


(Social Image Photo Credit: Hill­Street­Stu­dios)