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Research Report

Automatic and Permanent Voter Registration: How It Works

Published: November 11, 2015

This bold new plan is at the center of public debate in 2015, with Oregon and California passing laws and top candidates embracing reform. Our new analysis explains exactly how automatic registration works and how other states can move to implement it.

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The voter registration systems in much of our country are not up to par. One in four eligible citizens is not on the voter rolls, and one in eight registration records is invalid or has serious errors, according to the Pew Center on the States. The source of the problem? Outdated systems using outdated technology. Despite the ubiquity of computers in modern life, too many states still rely on ink and paper for voter registration.

Fortunately, there is a solution with the potential to clean up the rolls, save states money, and enfranchise voters. If states take a few simple steps to modernize voter registration, we can sign up as many as 50 million more eligible citizens and dramatically improve the accuracy of the rolls. Over the past decade, many states have adopted the key components of modern voter registration, and in 2015, California and Oregon enacted breakthrough laws to automatically register voters when they interact with motor vehicle agencies. These are tremendous steps in the right direction. If we continue along this path, the country is headed toward transformative reform. 

Automatic Permanent Voter Registration: How It Works