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 the government agency is transmitted to election officials who use it to either create a new voter record or update an existing registration. This process is triggered by interaction with a participating government agency, but it is not compulsory. Individuals may opt out of registration at the agency or later by returning a mailer, depending on the state.
As of January 2022, 22 states and Washington, D.C., are categorized by NCSL as having enacted or implemented automatic voter registration.
How AVR Works
In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA pioneered a new way to register to vote in America: It required most states to provide citizens with an opportunity to register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver’s license at a department of motor vehicles (DMV) or other designated state agencies. Because of the requirement for DMVs to participate in voter registration, the NVRA is often referred to as “motor voter.”
Some states apply the same automated processes to other state-designated agencies covered under NVRA. Under Section 7 of the NVRA, any state office that provides public assistance or operates state-funded programs that serve individuals with disabilities must offer opportunities to register to vote. The law also requires states to designate additional offices providing voter registration services.
Since the passage of the NVRA, the collection of voter information has shifted from paper-based forms to digital records, with many state DMV systems linking electronically to statewide voter registration databases. This allows the DMV to not only collect information on eligible voters but also electronically transfer that information to the voter registration database. Electronic data transfers are more accurate and less resource intensive.
In January 2016, Oregon became the first state to implement AVR. In what is sometimes referred to as the “Oregon model,” an eligible voter who interacts with the DMV is not asked whether they would like to register to vote, but instead is automatically opted into registering. The voter is soon sent a notification informing them they were registered and that they can opt out by returning the notification.
Other states which 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 the DMV may choose to register to vote or decline to register at the point of service. The DMV will show an electronic screen asking whether they 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.
- Back-end opt out: Customers during their agency transaction 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 after receiving the post-transaction mailer.
See the table below for details on enactment dates, enabling legislation, participating state agencies and opt out method.