The voter registration process is failing Americans who want to vote. In some cases it has become an unfair barrier to the ballot box. It has even been used to steal elections through fraudulent, partisan, racist purging of voter rolls.

  • Roughly one-fourth of eligible voters are not registered. That's 50 million Americans.
  • The unregistered tend to be lower income, people of color, and youth.
  • Restrictive registration deadlines prevent millions from casting votes.

The result is unaccountable officials, and governance that doesn't reflect the true will of the people. 

Several key reforms would modernize the system and make it fairer, more accurate, and less expensive:

1. Universal & Automatic

Everyone should be added to the voter rolls when they reach voting age or interact with a government agency (as long as they are given a chance to opt out). Young people ages 16–17 should be registered to vote through their schools. Their status can be activated when they turn eighteen, setting them on a path to lifetime participation in democracy. What's more, some municipalities have lowered the voting age for local elections.

2. Permanent & Portable

Once a voter is on the rolls, that registration should be considered permanent. When voters move, registration should move with them. Anytime a voter changes address with a government agency, such as the DMV, Social Security Administration, or Post Office, that information should be updated in the voter rolls.

3. Available on Election Day

Same-day registration increases voter participation. The 2014 midterm election had the lowest turnout since Word War II, yet states with same-day registration had on average 7 percent greater turnout. This discrepancy shows that a lack of same-day registration is an unnecessary impediment to voter access.

4. The responsibility of Government

The responsibility for registering voters should fall on our state governments and not on citizens, for one simple reason: Fairness. Recent attempts to make voting more difficult through voter ID requirements have highlighted unequal access to government services in poorer communities. A true right to vote requires a level playing field.

Should we Register ONLINE?

Many believe that registration should, in theory, be made easy and secure online. The key advantage beyond convenience is direct data entry, with three effects: it saves public money by not having to manually import citizen information; it reduces the potential for errors; and it puts the information in a common data format. However, issues with this system currently include security vulnerabilities and inability of millions of voters to participate.



policy Motivations

  1. Energize Democracy: Give millions of people the ballot.
  2. Cultivate Citizens: Encourage young people to participate. 
  3. Build Trust: Increase voter confidence in elections.
  4. Improve Efficiency: Decrease wait time at polling sites.
  5. Reform Government: Reduce costs for election administration.

Read the Brennan Center Report


Who's Doing It?


As Ari Berman writes in The Nation, "In March 2015, Oregon became the first state to automatically register anyone who requests a driver’s license or state ID from the DMV unless they opt out, shifting voter registration responsibilities from the individual to the state. The law takes effect next year, and Oregon estimates that 300,000 new people will be added to the rolls.


Legislation emulating Oregon was signed into California law in October 2015. Any eligible Californian who gets a driver’s license will be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out. Election officials estimate that the law will add 6.6 million eligible voters to the rolls.

Pending Legislation

[NEDC does not endorse any specific piece of legislation]


Rep. Conyers and Sen. Gillibrand introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of 2015 with the goal of opening access to the ballot box by:

  • Modernizing the voter registration system
  • Authorizing an online registration option
  • Authorizing same-day registration and permitting voters to update their registration data onsite
  • Providing additional tools to alleviate any additional burdens for people with disabilities
  • Requiring all universities that receive federal funds to offer and encourage voter registration to their students
  • Simplifying registration and ensuring that ballots from all military personnel serving overseas are counted 

Ensuring election integrity by:

  • Authorizing funds for training poll workers and setting standards for polling place practices
  • Requiring provisional ballots be available and counted at all polling places
  • Prohibiting voter caging and designating it as a felony
  • Protecting against deceptive practices and intimidation

Protecting accountability of election results by:

  • Establishing a national voter hotline to ensure timely reporting and corrective action of voting related issues
  • Setting standards for voting machines to ensure accurate tabulation and confirmation of voter intent paper copy verification
  • Reauthorizing the Election Assistance Commission to ensure that the highest standards are being met nationwide to guarantee fair elections



New York

State Senator Michael Gianaris introduced the Voter Empowerment Act of New York (Senate Bill S2538) in 2015 to streamline the voter registration process. The bill proposes to:

  • Provide for automating voter registration of eligible consenting citizens at designated government agencies;
  • Permit the preregistration of 16–17 years old;
  • Transfer the registrations of New Yorkers who move within the state;
  • Allow for the correction of registration records on Election Day;
  • Increase the privacy of voters and the security of voter information in the statewide voter registration list;
  • Provide for the provision of voter registration forms to students by colleges, universities, and public school districts.
  • Provide for access to voter registration records and the registration of eligible citizens over the Internet; and
  • Move the deadlines for voter registration and party enrollment to 10 days before any election.

The bill has 14 cosponsors and is currently in committee. They cite the following justification:

Modernizing the voter registration system will increase the efficiency of voter registration for the State and its constituent governmental units, save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, increase the completeness and accuracy of the statewide voter registration list, prevent erroneous disenfranchisement of eligible citizens, promote greater participation of eligible voters in elections, and reduce the incidence of voter registration fraud and voting fraud.

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