Automatic voter registration (AVR) is a process in which eligible individuals are automatically registered to vote when interacting with certain government agencies, such as a department of motor vehicles. Information gathered from participating government agencies is transmitted to election officials, who use it to either create a new voter record or update an existing registration. While this process is triggered by an interaction with a participating government agency, it is not compulsory—individuals may choose to opt out of registration during their transaction at the agency, or later by returning a mailer, depending on the state.
About half the states and Washington, D.C., are categorized by NCSL as having enacted or implemented automatic voter registration.
How AVR Works
Other states that have adopted AVR have chosen different approaches, characterized by the point at which a voter may opt out of being registered to vote. The majority of AVR states use one of two approaches:
Front-end opt out: With this approach, the customer at a participating agency may choose to register to vote or decline to register at the point of service. An electronic screen will ask whether the customer would like to register to vote. If they decline, the voter is not registered. If they affirm, in states where voters have the option of affiliating with a political party, the next screen will ask if they would like to do so.
Within front-end opt out are two further approaches. While not broken out individually in the table below, it is worth noting that these options exist. One approach, sometimes called a hard-stop approach, asks a customer to either affirmatively agree to register to vote or to decline. For example, a Virginia voter who is at the DMV to get a driver’s license will encounter a screen on the touch pad that informs them they are about to begin the voter registration process. The voter can click Continue to register or update their registration, or No to finish their driver’s license transaction without registering. California and West Virginia have similar systems. A different front-end approach takes the customer through the voter registration process during the transaction unless they actively select an option to decline. That approach does not present the voter with a screen asking them whether they would like to register before beginning the registration process.
Back-end opt-out: During their agency transaction customers provide information needed to register to vote. After the transaction occurs, the customer is notified by the agency via a post-transaction mailer that they will be registered to vote, unless they respond to the notification and decline. If the customer takes no action, they will be registered to vote. In this approach, registration information is automatically transferred, and customers may choose to decline or affiliate with a political party after receiving the post-transaction mailer.
See the table below for details on enactment dates, enabling legislation, participating state agencies and opt out method.
Note: In some states, NCSL uses its own approach for categorization. If a legislature enacts a bill with the words “automatic” or “automated” in it to describe a paperless system for registering voters at DMVs or other state agencies, they are included on this page. Likewise, if, through existing authority and administrative action, a state moves toward either of the two categories, they are included. Last, if NCSL learns from a representative of the state’s chief election official that their system qualifies as automatic or automated, they are added too.