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Automatic Voter Registration and Modernization in the States

Many states across the country are successfully using components of voter registration modernization. Here is a complete rundown.

Last Updated: February 1, 2021
Published: March 29, 2019

Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion is gain­ing trac­tion quickly in the states. Since March 2015, nine­teen states plus the District of Columbia have author­ized the policy, which is now the gold stand­ard of modern­ized regis­tra­tion. The reform builds on top of other modern­iz­ing reforms that brings voter regis­tra­tion to the 21st Century—which are increas­ingly common­place across the coun­try.

Already, 49 states and the District of Columbi­a—without fanfare or partisan wrangling—have moved forward with import­ant elements of voter regis­tra­tion modern­iz­a­tion. The import­ant tenets of a modern regis­tra­tion system include elec­tronic regis­tra­tion at DMVs, online regis­tra­tion, Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, port­ab­il­ity, and preregis­tra­tion. In addi­tion to states that have already imple­men­ted these reforms, many legis­latures have seen bills intro­duced to modern­ize their voter regis­tra­tion infra­struc­ture. See here for voting bills under consid­er­a­tion across the coun­try.

Below is an over­view of the progress of voter regis­tra­tion modern­iz­a­tion elements in states:

Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion

Elec­tronic regis­tra­tion is a key build­ing block of auto­matic regis­tra­tion. It gives citizens the choice to be elec­tron­ic­ally registered to vote at the same time they do busi­ness with a govern­ment office, such as apply for a driver’s license or state veter­ans’ bene­fits, by digit­ally trans­fer­ring their voter regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion to the appro­pri­ate elec­tions office. This elim­in­ates errors caused by paper records, cleans up the voter rolls, and saves states money.

  • At least 36 states—A­ri­zona, Arkan­sas, Cali­for­nia, Color­ado, Connecti­cut, Delaware, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, Illinois, Indi­ana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisi­ana, Mary­land, Massachu­setts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missis­sippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Caro­lina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Caro­lina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wash­ing­ton, and West Virgini­a—plus the District of Columbia, currently or will soon have fully or substan­tially elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion at DMVs.
  • At least seven states—Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Mary­land, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wash­ing­ton—have, or soon will have, elec­tronic regis­tra­tion at social service agen­cies in addi­tion to the DMV.  

Online Regis­tra­tion

Online regis­tra­tion is a key compon­ent of Voter Regis­tra­tion Modern­iz­a­tion that allows voters to register­—and to check and update their regis­tra­tion record­s—­through a secure and access­ible online portal.

  • 40 states—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Cali­for­nia, Color­ado, Connecti­cut, Delaware, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indi­ana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisi­ana, Mary­land, Massachu­setts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Caro­lina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Caro­lina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wash­ing­ton, West Virginia, and Wiscon­sin—plus the District of Columbia, currently or will soon offer online voter regis­tra­tion.

Port­ab­il­ity

Once an eligible citizen is on a state’s voter rolls, she should remain registered and her records should move with her so long as she contin­ues to reside in that state. States can achieve port­able regis­tra­tion through auto­matic address updates that capture voters who have moved, and through Elec­tion Day proced­ures that enable voters who have moved within the state to cast a ballot that counts. In total, 20 states currently or will soon have systems of port­able regis­tra­tion that allow registered voters who move to cast valid ballots even if they do not update their regis­tra­tions before Elec­tion Day.

  • 16 states—C­ali­for­nia, Color­ado, Connecti­cut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hamp­shire, Utah, Vermont, Wash­ing­ton, Wiscon­sin, and Wyom­ing—plus the District of Columbia, currently or will soon permit Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, which allows voters to register or update their exist­ing regis­tra­tion on Elec­tion Day.
  • In addi­tion, 6 states—Delaware, Flor­ida, Mary­land, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah—have systems of port­able regis­tra­tion that allow registered voters who move to cast valid ballots even if they do not update their regis­tra­tions before Elec­tion Day.

Elec­tion Day Correc­tion

Eligible voters should have secure, fail-safe proced­ures to correct mistaken inform­a­tion at the polls. Even with the best and most modern list-build­ing prac­tices, some errors are inev­it­able and some voter regis­tra­tions will fall through the cracks. No eligible Amer­ican should lose the right to vote because of errors or omis­sions.

  • 16 states—C­ali­for­nia, Color­ado, Connecti­cut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hamp­shire, Utah, Vermont, Wash­ing­ton, Wiscon­sin, and Wyom­ing—plus the District of Columbia, currently or will soon permit Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, which allows voters to register or update their exist­ing regis­tra­tion on Elec­tion Day.
  • In addi­tion, Mary­land and North Caro­lina allow voters register or update their exist­ing regis­tra­tion during the early voting period, but not on Elec­tion Day.
  • North Dakota has another fail-safe mech­an­ism in place, as they do not have a regis­tra­tion require­ment.

Preregis­tra­tion

States with preregis­tra­tion laws enable young people to register as future voters, even if they won’t turn 18 before the next Elec­tion Day. Voters are then auto­mat­ic­ally registered once they turn 18. Allow­ing future voters to preregister before they turn 18—for example, when they first get a driver’s license—is an import­ant policy to ensure that every voter is registered and able to vote as soon as she is eligible.

  • 16 states—C­ali­for­nia, Color­ado, Delaware, Flor­ida, Hawaii, Louisi­ana, Maine, Mary­land, Massachu­setts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Caro­lina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wash­ing­ton—plus the District of Columbia, allow or have enacted legis­la­tion allow­ing 16 or 17 year-olds to preregister to vote even if they won’t turn 18 before Elec­tion Day.

Every State That Has Modern­ized Regis­tra­tion Has Saved Money:

  • Modern­iz­a­tion is a modest invest­ment, and it will pay for itself, saving states millions of dollars a year.
  • Wash­ing­ton spent about $280,000 to imple­ment elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion at DMVs and intro­duce online regis­tra­tion. The Secret­ary of State’s office saved approx­im­ately $176,000 in the first two years, and the counties saved even more.
  • Online regis­tra­tion cost Arizona less than $100,000, and auto­mat­ing DMV regis­tra­tions cost only an addi­tional $30,000.
  • In Mari­copa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix), processing a paper voter regis­tra­tion form costs 83¢, compared to an aver­age of 3¢ for applic­a­tions received elec­tron­ic­ally from the DMV or through the online system.
  • In 2008, Mari­copa County saved data entry costs equi­val­ent to the cost of eight full-time employ­ees.
  • Delaware saved over $200,000 in the first year after improv­ing its elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion system at DMVs. 

Elec­tronic Trans­mis­sion of Voter Regis­tra­tions Increases Regis­tra­tion Rates:

  • In Wash­ing­ton and Kansas, the number of voter regis­tra­tion trans­ac­tions at DMVs doubled after the system became elec­tronic.
  • In South Dakota, regis­tra­tion rates at the DMV increased about six times over after the state imple­men­ted elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion.
  • In Delaware, which imple­men­ted partial elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion at DMVs over a decade ago, 81% of all regis­tra­tions come from DMVs, compared to 38% nation­ally.

Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion and Other Modern­iz­ing Reforms Possible Now

The move­ment for auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion is thriv­ing in the states, and other modern­iz­ing reforms continue to expand. State exper­i­ences show that voter regis­tra­tion modern­iz­a­tion is feas­ible, cost-effect­ive, and will save taxpay­ers millions of dollars each year.

  • Please click here for a policy brief on auto­matic, perman­ent voter regis­tra­tion.
  • Please click here for a primer on the key policy points of auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion and other modern­iz­ing elements.
  • Please click here for our latest report on paper­less regis­tra­tion and how states have moved to modern­ize their voter regis­tra­tion systems.
  • Please click here for an issue brief on Voter Regis­tra­tion for the 21st Century.
  • Please click here for Compon­ents of a Bill to Modern­ize the Voter Regis­tra­tion System.

More on Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion

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