By Katy Owens Hubler
Think back: How did you first register to vote?
In 49 states, a citizen has to register before being eligible to vote in an election. The exception is North Dakota, where registration ahead of time isn’t required.
I registered as part of a voter registration drive in Pioneer Square in Portland, Ore., just before a presidential election. Private advocacy groups and political parties often work to register voters. The largest group of registrations—35 percent in 2014—are so-called "motor voters," folks who register while getting a driver’s license. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act requires departments of motor vehicles to provide voter registration.
But only 77 percent of the voting age population was registered for the 2014 election! Today is National Voter Registration Day, and election offices across the country are making a push to register more voters.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is using social media to get the word out, encouraging voters to snap pictures of themselves holding an "I'm registered to vote. Are you?" sign and post it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The hashtag #GoVoteTN went viral last year and will be trending again today.
Other states will be encouraging citizens to register using the Internet. Recent years have seen a steep increase in the number of states offering online voter registration. Twenty-three states currently offer online voter registration and today Nebraska will become the 24th, as it announces the launch of its system in honor of National Voter Registration Day. Another five states plus the District of Columbia have passed enabling legislation but have yet to implement their systems.
For the first time this year, we're seeing automatic registration. Oregon was the first state to adopt this new approach (HB 2177) which registers all eligible voters who are in the Department of Motor Vehicles database. Voters can “opt out” of being on the voter list if they’d like, and can indicate a party affiliation after the fact. See NCSL’s blog post on Oregon’s law. The legislatures in California (AB1461) and New Jersey (AB4613) have also passed automatic registration bills—both are currently with the governors.
Learn more about voter registration on NCSL’s Voter Registration page.
Find out how to register in your state.
Katy Owens Hubler is a senior policy specialist at NCSL.