In the United States, 90 million eligible voters – 45 percent of the population – move every five years. When Americans register to vote, their voter registrations are linked to their residential address. This connection between a voter’s registration and residence is intended to ensure reliable and accurate voter lists and that voters only vote for races and ballot questions that affect the communities in which they live. However, in America’s increasingly mobile society – a society where an estimated 29 million voting-age Americans move each year – a fixed and static linkage between voter registration and a voter’s residential address can prove to be complicated and confusing – and for many, ultimately disenfranchising.
There are a number of state and federal laws to protect voters who move, but these laws are far from uniform. Some states offer no more protections than those provided by federal law, while others have established systems of portable or “permanent” registration under which registered voters can move within the state and still can cast a ballot that counts on Election Day. Laws also vary depending on whether people move across state or county lines, and while state and federal laws protect some voters, they do not protect them all, leaving some movers at risk of being disenfranchised.
The diverse patchwork of laws governing voters who move means such voters are treated differently depending on where they live. Differing treatment also results from inconsistent enforcement: election officials and poll workers do not always properly implement legal protections for voters who move. The complex regime governing the rights and responsibilities of voters who move ultimately creates confusion for voters and election workers alike.