Automatic Voter Registration Boosts States' Voter Rolls
By Pam Fessler
The United States is almost alone among industrial countries and other democracies in putting most of the onus of registering to vote on individual voters, a sometimes cumbersome process that may explain a large portion of why turnout rates in the U.S. are lower than in many other countries.
But the increasing adoption of automatic voter registration over the past five years has led to a big boost in the voter rolls in states that have implemented the new system, according to a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
Although programs differ from state to state, automatic voter registration (also known as AVR in voting circles) generally means that eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote when they get a driver's license, register a vehicle or interact with other government agencies, unless the individual opts out.
Advocates say this is an effective way to expand the electorate, and the Brennan report appears to back that up. It found that registrations rose between 9 and 94 percent in seven states and the District of Columbia, owing to their automatic registration systems. The increase was greatest in Georgia (93.7 percent) and lowest in the District of Columbia (9.4 percent)
"Automatic voter registration works," says Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. She says that registrations increased "irrespective of whether or not the state has a history of pro-voter reforms and when they don't. In blue states, in red states, in purple states, in big states and small states, we see an increase." She added that automatic registration systems seem to have a greater impact in states where a smaller percentage of eligible voters are already registered.