Posted by Marie Lemieux on July 26, 2017
Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is a process where “state officials automatically register eligible citizens using reliable information from other government lists. All would be given the chance to “opt out” or decline registration”. This policy proposal seeks to resolve the issue of having a barrier at the polls. According to the Pew Center on the States: “One in four eligible citizens is not registered to vote and one in eight voter registrations in the United States is invalid or significantly inaccurate.” Non-partisan organizations advocating for the implementation of AVR recommend that state agencies become responsible for implementing this policy. AVR bills have become more popular in states across the country in recent years, as an increasing number of state legislatures are adopting legislation related to AVR.
Why is AVR a common sense policy?
1. Creates a Diverse and More Representative Voting Population
Implementing AVR is associated with a more diverse voting population that is more representative of the state population. In Oregon, following the adoption of the AVR bill in 2015, the Oregon Motor Voter (OMV), voters who were registered through the Oregon Office of Motor Vehicles were “younger, more rural, lower-income, and more ethnically diverse” than the pool of registered voters who had registered themselves, “who [were] older, more educated, [with] higher incomes, and […] as a group, less racially diverse”.
2. Lowers Cost for Voter Registration
The adoption of AVR has been associated with drastically lower costs compared to other voter registration methods. In Canada, which uses a form of AVR, the state spends only 35 cents per “active voter”. On the other hand, “Oregon’s old paper-based voter registration system cost the state $7.67 per registration transaction or $4.11 per registered voter in 2008”. Both sides of the aisle can agree that in this era of reduced spending, AVR is a fiscally responsible policy that can enhance America’s democracy.
3. Eliminates Human Error
Implementing AVR is associated with a decrease in human errors in voter registration. Currently, many voters must fill out a paper registration form that a government employee then processes. This exposes the government to data entry mistakes made by clerks who quickly enter many voter registration forms before registration deadlines. Moreover, this policy decreases the number of mistakes associated with the registrant’s handwriting, where the clerk is unable to understand what is written and the registration is thus deemed invalid. A case study conducted in Maricopa County, Arizona determined that the small percentage of paper-based registrations in the county made up an overwhelming number of the registration riddled with errors, thus demonstrating that using paper registration increases the likelihood of registration errors.
4. Decreases Voter Fraud
With AVR, only eligible voters are registered to vote, information is frequently updated in government databases and government agencies have access to eligibility information such as dates of birth and citizenship status. In Oregon, the implementation of AVR permitted the state to update 570,000 inaccurate addresses. Moreover, AVR legislation under consideration in certain states carry heavy penalties for individuals who provide false information.
Complete and accurate voter rolls are essential to the integrity of the electoral process. This is why states should implement AVR and allow American citizens to fairly participate in American democracy.