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VRM | Federal Lists

Published: May 12, 2009

Several federal programs maintain databases which contain information on the names, dates of birth, mailing and street addresses, and often the citizenship status and unique identifiers (such as Social Security numbers) of potential voters. The following is an overview of some key lists maintained by the agencies charged with administering these programs. Each list may be useful in a particular aspect of voter registration; the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ list of new citizens may be a good source of information for newly naturalized citizens, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid list may help register young voters, and the United States Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service may be able to provide lists that are useful for address updating purposes.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services | Free Application for Federal Student Aid
United States Postal Service | Social Security Administration
Internal Revenue Service | U.S. Census Bureau

A.      United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues a unique, nine-digit identification number, called an “alien registration number” or “A-number,” to every foreign national who is admitted to the United States or involved in an immigration enforcement or other law enforcement proceeding.[1]  For every person that has been assigned an A-number, USCIS maintains an “A-file,” which includes the person’s name, date and country of birth, and class of admission.[2]  That A-file also contains a Naturalization Certificate Number, SSN, and driver’s license number if that information is applicable and available.[3]  Information from each A-file is included in the Department of Homeland Security’s electronic Central Information System (CIS).[4]

B.      Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

According to the Department of Education, in the calendar year 2005, 12.7 million students filled out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which accounts for almost three quarters of the total post-secondary student population for that year according to U.S. Census estimate estimates.[5] The Department of Education maintains information on all FAFSA applicants in a database called the Federal Student Aid Application File, which includes applicant names, addresses, birth dates, and Social Security Numbers.[6] The Department of Education also collects and stores citizenship information on FAFSA applicants.[7]

C.      United States Postal Service

The United States Postal Service (USPS) maintains a considerable amount of information on the addresses of U.S. citizens through its National Change of Address (NCOA) database, which includes self-reported information on individuals who move, and its Delivery Sequence File (DSF), a computerized database of all delivery addresses.[8]  Some state elections officials currently use information from the NCOA database to help update and maintain their elections rolls.[9]

D.      Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration’s “Master Files of Social Security Number (SSN) Holders and SSN Applications” retains information on all persons who have applied for a Social Security number at some point in the past.  The database contains all of the information from the original SSN application, including name, date and place of birth, both parents’ names and SSNs, as well as the supporting documentation that the applicant provided to prove eligibility to receive an SSN (which includes information on citizenship status).[10]  It does not, however, include any address information for those who are not Social Security beneficiaries.[11]  In sending yearly Social Security Statements, the Social Security Administration uses the last known address acquired from the IRS.[12]

E.       Internal Revenue Service

The most complete and accurate information the federal government maintains on the current addresses of U.S. citizens is likely the IRS database, which the IRS has been working to upgrade over the past eight years as part of its multimillion-dollar Business Systems Modernization initiative.[13] Individuals self-report the information contained in this database on an annual basis with significant penalties associated with noncompliance. Individuals who qualify for tax refunds are additionally incentivized to report accurate address information.

F.       U.S. Census Bureau

In preparation for the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau began to develop a nationwide list with the goal of locating the geographic location of all residences in the United States, which is called the “Master Address File” (MAF). The goal of the MAF is to document the street address (or some other equivalent location description), mailing address (if different from the street address), and census block location for every residence in the United States.[14]  Where possible, the MAF includes the names and mailing addresses of occupants of each residence.[15] Among the major sources of city-style addresses for Census 2000 was the USPS’s Delivery Sequence File (DSF), which consists of all locations the USPS recognizes as a deliverable street address, and which accounts for the residences of approximately 80% of the U.S. population.[16]  The Census also partners with state, local, and tribal government entities, in order to share address data and locate residences that may be hard to find-according to the GAO, approximately half of the nearly 40,000 eligible governmental entities participated in the 2000 Census, and the Bureau is aiming to have 60% participation from these entities for the 2010 Census.[17]


[1] See United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, E-Verify User Manual for Designated Agents 54 (March 2009).

[2] United States Department of Homeland Security, Privacy Impact Assessment for the Central Index System 5 (June 2007).

[3] Id.

[4] Id at 3. 

[5] United States Department of Education Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, Summary of FAFSA Processing Statistics (Feb. 2006), available at; United States Census Bureau, School Enrollment-Social and Economic Characteristics of Students, Enrollment of the Population 15 Years Old and Over, by School Type, Attendance Status, Control of School, Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin, October 2005 (Total; college and graduate).

[6] 64 Fed. Reg. 30160 (June 4, 1999).

[7] Free Application for Federal Student Aid: Privacy and Security Information, (last visited July 20, 2009).

[8] See U.S. Postal Service, NCOALink Systems, (last visited July 20, 2009); U.S. Postal Service, DMM 509 Nonmailing Services, (last visited July 20, 2009).

[9] See Adam Skaggs and Jonathan Blitzer, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Permanent Voter Registration 22 (June 2009).

[10] 71 Fed. Reg. 1815 (Jan. 11, 2006).

[11] Social Security Administration, Answer: How do I correct the address on my Social Security Statement?, (last visited July 20, 2009).

[12] Id.

[13] See Paul Cerecwich, Jr., Chairman, IRS Oversight Board, Statement before the H. Comm. on Appropriations, Subcomm. On Financial Services and General Govt. (June 5, 2009).

[14] See United States Census Bureau, The Census Bureau’s Master Address File (MAF): Census 2000 Address List Basics 1 (March 1999).

[15] Id at 13.

[16] Id at 4–5.

[17] United States Government Accountability Office, 2010 Census: Census Bureau has Improved the Local Update of Census Addresses Program, but Challenges Remain 7–8.