Full implementation of Motor Voter provisions creates an accessible, integrated means of registering citizens to vote when they interact with a state agency. Passed in 1993, the National Voter Registration Act’s, or NVRA’s, Motor Voter provisions require states to provide voter registration opportunities when citizens interact with a state’s motor vehicle department or any state agency that offers public assistance. According to the 2014 President’s Commission on Election Administration report, however, Motor Voter is “the election statute most often ignored.”

A February 2015 Demos report analyzed the levels of voter registration at state Departments of Motor Vehicles by calculating the ratios of DMV voter registration applications to total DMV license transactions, for states where data was available. The analysis shows that increasing effective implementation of Motor Voter provisions in the states could result in more than 18 million new voter registration applications per every two-year electoral cycle. These data come with some important caveats: Every state tracks this information in a slightly different way, and they seem to interpret what they are required to report differently as well. This may make the numbers not precisely comparable from one state to another. For that reason, Demos groups states into three performance groups rather than giving each state a precise score, a model this report followed in its scoring system.

Oregon’s recently passed new Motor Voter law, H.B. 2177—while not separately scored in this report’s rankings because it is the first of its kind in the nation—is an excellent example of states taking proactive steps to ensure full coordination between election officials and the state Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV. This law, known as automatic registration, means every unregistered citizen who interacts with the state’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division will become registered to vote unless they opt out.

For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.

Click to view scoring methodology
  1. Current Policy in State
    Points added to score
  2. State is in "high performing" tier
    0 points
  3. State is in "middle performing" tier
    5 points
  4. State is in "low performing" tier
    10 points
Policy Recommendation for This Factor
Better integrate voter registration opportunities into transactions at state Motor Vehicle Departments and other public agencies

Some states have fully and comprehensively integrated Motor Voter provisions into the operation of their Motor Vehicle Departments; others have merely checked a box. Demos provides five key ways through which states can ensure full compliance and integration:

  • Seamless integration, with no duplicate information required, of voter registration into driver’s license application or renewal process
  • Electronic transfer, including signature, of voter registration information from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the elections agency
  • Automatic voting address updates when voters changes their addresses with the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the voter specifically indicates this is not a change of voting address
  • A proactively offered opportunity to register to vote when an individual who is not already registered changes their address with the Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Assistance with the process of registering to vote available at the Department of Motor Vehicles

In addition, states should seek opportunities to similarly integrate voter registration into citizen interactions with other public agencies. This will ensure that individuals who cannot or do not drive also have the opportunity to conveniently register to vote, along with the same change-of-address provisions above.

Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.

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© 2015 Center for American Progress Action Fund

Press Contact: Benton Strong at Bstrong@americanprogressaction.org 202-481-8142

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