What is Automatic Voter Registration?
Currently, eligible citizens have the choice to register to vote when they get their driver’s license through motor-voter provisions. This ‘opt-in’ process leaves room for many eligible voters to remain unregistered despite this opportunity.
With automatic voter registration, every eligible voter will be automatically registered when they get a driver’s license or state identification card. Eligible citizens who already have driver's licenses or state ID card will also be automatically added to the voting rolls, and will be notified by mail. If a person does not want to register to vote, he or she can ‘opt-out.’ If passed, automatic registration could add millions of voters to the rolls, increase turnout and strengthen participation.
Why Automatic Voter Registration?
According to the Pew Center on States, as of 2012, approximately 51 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote. This number represents a disproportionate share of low-income voters, people of color, and younger Americans. 30 percent of eligible African Americans, 40 percent of Hispanics, 45 percent of Asian Americans, and 41 percent of young adults (ages 18-24), were not registered to vote in 2008.
An Oxford Journal study of Google search terms for registration after registration deadlines had passed, found that between three and four million eligible Americans would have voted, but were too late to register.
In short, the opt-in nature of registration is leaving a lot of our democracy at home. By making registration automatic and universal, we have the potential to bring new – disproportionately minority and young – voting power to bear in our elections.
And momentum is growing to tap into this power.
In March of 2015, iVote announced that it would launch multiple state campaigns to educate voters on the benefits of automatic registration and explore opportunities to enact it in targeted states.
Where is it happening?
In Oregon, the first of its kind, automatic voter registration bill was signed into law by former Secretary of State, Governor Kate Brown in March 2015. Under the law, any eligible resident with a driver’s license or state ID is automatically registered to vote. The secretary of state uses data from the DMV to register voters. Those who are eligible receive a postcard in the mail notifying them that they have been registered to vote. Oregonians then have 21 days to opt out of registration.
In the first four months of 2016, Oregon added 51,558 new voters to the voter rolls through automatic voter registration. Overall, it is estimated that 300,000 new voters will be added to the state’s rolls through automatic voter registration, bringing the total of registered voters from 2.2 million to 2.5 million. Again, these would be voters who disproportionately had been disenfranchised.
In June 2015, in a speech focused on voting rights, Secretary Clinton expressed support for automatic registration to fight back against Republican efforts to keep voters from the polls. Following her call, an automatic registration bill was introduced on the floor of the US House of Representatives.
In October 2015, California became the second state to enact automatic voter registration. It is estimated that automatic voter registration will add nearly 7 million eligible voters to the rolls in California. West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut approved automatic voter registration in the spring of 2016, and bills have been introduced in nearly 30 other states.
With this momentum, there is an opportunity to drive similar efforts – through voter education, and through legislative campaigns or ballot initiatives in target states. Initially, iVote conducted research and voter education in key states where an effort could be politically viable. Based on this work, iVote will lead campaigns in two states to enact automatic registration.