Policy Spotlight: Automatic Voter Registration Is Good for Democracy, But How It is Done Matters
While it is not a policy that often makes headlines, automatic voter registration (AVR) is an integral part of a successful election system and ensuring that all eligible voters can vote. AVR modernizes the voter registration process by automatically registering eligible voters through their interactions with state agencies. This most commonly happens when people apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.
AVR is efficient and helps ensure that every eligible voter can conveniently register to vote, as well as strengthening the security and accuracy of our election systems.
In a new policy spotlight from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), “Automatic Voter Registration Best Practices in the States,” we dig deeper into how states have implemented AVR–and find that the details of how AVR works matters.
How States Implement Automatic Voter Registration Matters When It Comes to Registration and Turnout Rates
While any form of AVR results in higher voter registration rates, there are different approaches to implementing the policy which make a significant difference: “front-end” vs. “back-end.”
- In front-end systems, the voter is given an opportunity at the time of the relevant agency transaction to decide whether to opt-out of being registered.
- In back-end systems, agencies such as state DMVs send information from relevant transactions to state election authorities. The voter is then automatically registered (or registered in pending status) before being given an opportunity to opt-out at a later time.
Whether states utilize “front-end” or “back-end” AVR matters. Recent studies show that implementing back-end AVR results in an 8.1% increase in registration, compared to 2.9% for front-end AVR. Back-end AVR also increases turnout among eligible voters (by 3.3%, compared to 1.1% for front-end AVR).
Automatic Voter Registration Landscape in the States
MAP’s Democracy Maps project tracks more than 40 laws and policies related to voting and elections, including a detailed map about Automatic Voter Registration policies in the states.
Of the 22 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted or are currently implementing automatic voter registration, six states have chosen a back-end system while the other 16 and D.C. use some form of a front-end system.
The Bottom Line
Automatic voter registration is an important step towards a strong democracy that encourages participation and inclusion. In a country where we have seen numerous razor-thin election margins, the impact of AVR on registration and turnout rates has the potential to significantly impact election results. Employing common sense in designing, adopting, and implementing AVR can help to close registration and turnout gaps across the country and in turn bolster the health of our democracy.
Visit the Democracy Maps to learn more, check out your own state, and see issue-by-issue maps: mapresearch.org/democracy-maps