Skip Navigation
Fact Sheet

Fact Sheet: Voter Registration for the 21st Century

Our voter registration system is frayed. Americans deserve a 21st century approach: one where every eligible voter is on the rolls, only eligible voters are on the rolls, and the government automatically updates voters’ records where possible to ensure accuracy.

Published: July 10, 2015

[View as PDF]

The voter regis­tra­tion system in much of our coun­try is frayed. One in four eligible citizens is not on the rolls, and one in eight regis­tra­tion records is invalid or has seri­ous errors. The source of the prob­lem is outdated tech­no­logy and think­ing. We use computers for virtu­ally everything from depos­it­ing checks to chat­ting with our friends over­seas, but too many states still rely on ink and paper for voter regis­tra­tion. Amer­ic­ans deserve a 21st century approach: one where every eligible voter is on the rolls, only eligible voters are on the rolls, and the govern­ment auto­mat­ic­ally updates voters’ records where possible to ensure accur­acy. That would require modern­iz­ing our voter regis­tra­tion system.

Voter Regis­tra­tion Modern­iz­a­tion Has Four Cent­ral Features:

  • Auto­matic Regis­tra­tion: State elec­tion offi­cials auto­mat­ic­ally register eligible citizens using reli­able inform­a­tion from other govern­ment lists. All would be given the chance to “opt out,” or decline regis­tra­tion — nobody would be registered against their will. Many states have already stream­lined the process at DMVs and other govern­ment agen­cies by making the regis­tra­tion process partially or fully elec­tronic, and auto­matic regis­tra­tion takes this one step further.
  • Port­ab­il­ity: Once an eligible citizen is on a state’s voter rolls, she remains registered and her records move with her.
  • Online Access: Voters can register, check, and update their regis­tra­tion records through a secure and access­ible online portal.
  • Safety Net: Eligible citizens can correct errors on the rolls or register before and on Elec­tion Day.

A Modern­ized Voter Regis­tra­tion System Would:

  • Upgrade our outdated, paper-based regis­tra­tion system, by lever­aging exist­ing tech­no­logy and reli­able inform­a­tion on other govern­ment lists to update and expand the voter rolls.
  • Boost regis­tra­tion dramat­ic­ally, adding up to 50 million to the rolls, and get us closer to the goal of regis­ter­ing every eligible Amer­ican. Agen­cies with elec­tronic regis­tra­tion have boos­ted regis­tra­tion more than seven-fold, and Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion has increased turnout 5 to 7 percent. Oregon could add more than 300,000 eligible voters to the rolls when it imple­ments auto­matic regis­tra­tion, and even more in subsequent years.  
  • Increase conveni­ence for voters, who can be added to the rolls in a seam­less way and be confid­ent their regis­tra­tion will be updated when they move. Auto­matic regis­tra­tion means more chances to be added to the rolls and update regis­tra­tion, port­ab­il­ity means voters can vote at a new address, and online access provides addi­tional conveni­ence.
  • Prevent voting barri­ers due to regis­tra­tion. Accord­ing to a Harvard/MIT study, nearly 3 million eligible citizens could not vote because of prob­lems related to their voter regis­tra­tion record. In 2012, over 3.6 million Amer­ic­ans exper­i­enced regis­tra­tion prob­lems. Inac­cur­ate voter rolls also contrib­ute to long lines at the polls. A more reli­able regis­tra­tion system will mean fewer errors, and Elec­tion Day options mean voters are not disen­fran­chised.
  • Reduce errors on regis­tra­tion lists stem­ming from typos or other mistakes, and illegible hand­writ­ing on thou­sands of forms. Mari­copa County, Arizona, found that regis­tra­tions submit­ted elec­tron­ic­ally were five times less likely to contain errors.
  • Save taxpayer money. For example, Wash­ing­ton spent about $280,000 to elec­tron­ic­ally register voters at DMVs and intro­duce online regis­tra­tion. The Secret­ary of State’s office saved over $125,000 in the first year, and the counties saved even more. Mari­copa County, Arizona, found processing a paper regis­tra­tion form cost 83 cents, compared to an aver­age of 3 cents for applic­a­tions received elec­tron­ic­ally through the DMV or online.

Where Modern­iz­a­tion Is Happen­ing in the States:

Already, the vast major­ity of states — without fanfare or partisan wrangling — have moved forward on import­ant elements of this plan.

  • Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion: At least 30 states currently or will soon have fully or substan­tially elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion at DMVs. At least 3 states have expan­ded or are soon expand­ing elec­tronic regis­tra­tion to public service agen­cies.
  • Auto­matic Regis­tra­tion: Oregon recently took this one step further, passing a break­through law to auto­mat­ic­ally register eligible citizens in the driver’s license data­base (and who do not ask to remain unre­gistered). Similar legis­la­tion is now pending in 17 states plus the District of Columbia.
  • Port­ab­il­ity: 8 states 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.
  • Safety Net: 13 states currently offer, or have enacted laws which provide for, Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, allow­ing eligible citizens to register or update their records on Elec­tion Day.
  • Online Access: At least 28 states currently or will soon offer online voter regis­tra­tion. At least 34 states allow citizens to look up their voter regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion online.

Grow­ing Bipar­tisan Support for Voter Regis­tra­tion Modern­iz­a­tion:

Prom­in­ent lead­ers of both parties have expressed support for modern­iz­ing voter regis­tra­tion. For example, the bipar­tisan Pres­id­en­tial Commis­sion on Elec­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, co-chaired by Mitt Romney’s and Pres­id­ent Obama’s top campaign attor­neys, endorsed key modern­iz­a­tion reforms. In the states, modern­iz­a­tion efforts have been cham­pioned by Repub­lic­ans and Demo­crats alike.