What Is Automatic Voter Registration?
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed July 21, 2020
Before voting in the actual election, all eligible citizens must first register to vote. To make this process easier, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (also known as "the motor voter law") in 1993.
The motor voter law requires state agencies to provide eligible voters the option to "opt in" to register to vote when they fill out paperwork. A good example is when you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew your driver's license. Your renewal application has a box, which if you check it, will give the agency the authority to update your voter registration. If you decide not to check the box, you will remain registered in your old address or not registered at all if you are new to the state.
Automatic Voter Registration
Automatic voter registration follows a different, more streamlined, approach. It is an automated process by which eligible voters are registered to vote when they interact with government agencies. Unlike the federal system, voters need to affirmatively opt-out if they don't want the agency to update their information.
How Does Automatic Voter Registration Work?
Oregon was the first state to implement an automatic registration system in 2016. In Oregon, voters are automatically opted into registering if they interact with the DMV. The DMV office will send a notification to the voters informing them of their registration. Voters can opt-out by returning the notification.
States have used mainly four ways to register voters. These are
- Agency provides postcard:
- The DMV gives eligible voters a postcard at the agency. The card states the information provided will be used to update their voter registration information or to register them to vote. Eligible voters can sign and return the card if they want to opt-out.
- Agency sends postcard via mail:
- Here, the agency sends voters mail informing them that they will automatically be registered to vote unless they opt-out by signing and returning the card before a certain date. Alaska is one of the states that use this method.
- "Opt-in" registration at the agency:
- Here, voters give information needed to register to vote during their interaction at the DMV. This is done through an electronic screen that asks citizens if they would like to register to vote.
- "Opt-out" registration at the agency:
- California and Rhode Island are some of the sates that follow this process.
Know Your State's Law on Automatic Voter Registration
State laws differ on their approach to automatic voter registration. Sixteen states and the District of Colombia have approved automatic registration systems. The law, however, continues to evolve. It is, therefore, crucial to research the current laws of your state so you understand how to register to vote.
Speak With an Attorney If Your Voting Rights Were Violated
As an American citizen, you have the fundamental right to vote. If you believe someone violated your voting rights or have questions on how to register to vote, you should contact an election law attorney to assist you with the process.