States Innovate to Help Voters Register

A group of young people stand outside with signs advocating for voter registration.

Image via National Voter Registration Day 2015

September 22, 2015

Elections matter: Raising our voices through voting is the best way to enact change. In all U.S. states, citizens must register to vote before casting a ballot. But over the past several years, many states have created barriers to registering and voting.

Other states are helping their voters. In honor of National Voter Registration Day, we’re highlighting some new state laws and practices that are making it easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote.

In spring of 2015, Oregon passed the nation’s first law establishing automatic voter registration. Under the new system, individuals will be automatically registered when they renew their driver’s licenses or state identification cards. Voters will be notified of their registration and will have 21 days to opt out if they choose. Then, weeks before Election Day, registered voters will receive a ballot in the mail — a practice established in Oregon in 1998. State officials estimate that automatic registration will add 300,000 people to the voter roll.

AAUW staff on National Voter Registration Day 2015

AAUW staff celebrate National Voter Registration Day.

In August, Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) announced the creation of an online voter registration system. Pennsylvania becomes the 23rd state to do so since Arizona began the practice in 2002. In addition to making registration more convenient for voters, online systems can often save states money. In just the first week, more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians registered to vote online.

Vermont also made moves in 2015 to help more of its citizens vote by launching a same-day voter registration program. This system allows voters to register on Election Day, eliminating confusion, barriers, and in many cases an additional expense for citizens. Previous efforts in other states suggest that same-day registration increases voting participation by 7 to 14 percent. Vermont becomes the 14th state with same-day voter registration.

While these innovations are promising, many other voter regulations, including strict voter ID laws, are making it more difficult for Americans to exercise their right to vote. If our elected officials are going to make the kind of change we want to see, we have to have access to elect the right people to office.

This post was written by AAUW State Policy Analyst Kate Nielson.


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