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Automatic Voter Registration: A New Tool to Expand voting

Updated: Jul 3, 2018

Source: Brennan Center for Justice
Source: Brennan Center for Justice

States have passed more restrictive voting laws in recent years to suppress turnout, but advocates throughout the country have worked toward innovative responses. One idea that is gaining popularity is automatic voter registration, which already exists in 9 states and the District of Columbia. An additional 15 states are considering versions of automatic voter registration in 2018.

How It Works

Automatic voter registration works differently depending on the state, but here is the basic idea: individuals are automatically registered as a voter when they complete documents with state government agencies. The name and address on these documents are then automatically passed along to the Secretary of State office that records or updates a registration. Unlike motor voter programs, individuals do not have to check a box or fill out an additional part of the form in order to become a registered voter. It just happens without them doing anything.

It Makes a Difference

Oregon was the first state to implement automatic registration in January of 2016. During the first six months of that year, Oregon added 15,433 voters each month. In 2012 and 2014, the monthly new registrant numbers were only 4,163 and 3,955 respectively. Each year, more states are following Oregon’s lead to expand voter rolls through this new policy. Currently, automatic voter registration also exists in California, Illinois, Colorado, Alaska, Georgia, West Virginia, Vermont, and Rhode Island.

Automatic Registration Is Not Universal Registration

Many people incorrectly assume that automatic voter registration means that 100% of all eligible voters are registered. Not true. In order for an automatic registration to take place, an individual must complete a state government form, most often an application for a driver’s license or an ID. Many people who do not interact with government agencies might remain unregistered and will still need to be approached through conventional voter registration drives.

How You Can Get Involved

If you live in a state that is considering adopting automatic voter registration, let your state legislators know that you support the effort. States with active efforts in support of the new policy are listed on the map on this page. For more information about automatic voter registration where you live, visit the Brennan Center for Justice’s website at

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