Reform Library

FairVote serves as a generator and incubator of good ideas to improve the democratic process by researching and advocating for solutions giving voters more voice and greater choice in their elections. Although we now focus on improving elections with ranked choice voting, we remain a resource on the proposals below.

Click on a topic to begin.

FairVote's Policy Guide includes one-page policy briefs for key electoral reform proposals, along with the following resources:

  • a model statutory language,
  • sample letters of support, and
  • related statements or text (when available)

These proposals represent the cutting edge in reforms for expanding suffrage, enhancing voter access, and protecting the right to a meaningful vote at all levels of government.

If you have any questions or comments relating to FairVote's Policy Guide, please contact our legal director Drew Spencer at dspencer [at] fairvote [dot] org or (301) 270-4616. 

Extending Voting Rights to 16- and 17-Year-Old Citizens

State and local policy. Localities can expand voting and enhance civic engagement for all citizens by joining the practice of several nations and other jurisdictions in enfranchising otherwise-eligible voters when they turn 16.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


17-Year-Old Primary and Caucus Voting

State and political party policy. If a voter will be eligible to vote in the general election, they should be able to vote in the primary or caucus that will nominate candidates to be on their ballots. An increasing number of states and political parties have therefore extended voting rights in primaries and caucuses to 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the date of the next general election.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


Election Day Holiday

State and federal policy. Federal and state law should mandate that our most important Election Days be observed as holidays. That way, people would be more able to vote at any time of day, not just before or after work.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


Restoring Voting Rights to Citizens with Past Felony Convictions

State policy. It should be easy for people with felony convictions to reintegrate into lawful society once they have completed their sentences. States can facilitate this process by simplifying the process of voting rights restoration and voter registration for people with felony convictions.

Policy Guide

Model Statute

Automatic Voter Registration

State policy. Automatic voter registration is the norm in many modern democracies. Rather than forbidding eligible voters from voting until they "opt-in" by registering, eligible voters should be able to vote by default, with the ability to opt-out if they choose to.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

Youth Voter Pre-Registration

State policy.Otherwise-eligible voters should be able to pre-register to vote before they reach voting age. That way they can will automatically be able to vote as soon as they become eligible.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

Automatic Voter Registration at High School and Colleges

State and local policy. It is easy for high schools - that already have their students' information - to ensure that all of their students are preregistered for voting. That way, more prospective voters are registered as soon as they become eligible to vote.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


Post-Election Audit Standards

State policy. Risk-limiting post-election audits allow voters to be confident in the accuracy of election results. When done well, they can be easy to administer, requiring variable levels of auditing depending on how close the election margins are, up to a full recount in the closest elections.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

Ranked Choice Ballots for Military and Overseas Voters

State and local policy. Military and overseas voters can participate in an election and its corresponding runoff at once, preventing them from being disenfranchised when two elections do not allow sufficient time for ballots to be mailed and returned.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

RCV Ballots for Military and Overseas Voters: Presidential Nominating Contests

State policy. By the time military voters have received, filled out, and mailed back their ballots in presidential nominating contests, one or more candidates may have dropped out of the race. By allowing them to use ranked ballots, they can ensure that their vote will count for their favorite candidate that is still in the running.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

Usability Testing for Ballots

State, local and federal policy. Voters can be inadvertently disenfranchised by incorrectly filling out a confusing ballot. Ballot designs should be tested to ensure that they are usable in advance of their implementation.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

A Constitutional Right to Vote

Federal policy. The right to vote is the foundation of democracy, yet the U.S. Constitution contains no explicit right to vote. The Constitution should be amended to explicitly grant the affirmative right to vote to every citizen of voting age.

Text of H.J.Res. 44

Policy Brief

Reasonable Ballot Access

State and federal policy. Voters are denied meaningful choices when the candidates they prefer most are kept off of the ballot entirely. States should pass commonsense ballot access requirements for all candidates at every stage of the election.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

High School Civics Education

State and local policy. Students who are given a thorough civics education are more likely to become active participants in the democratic process. Surveys show that students who participate in civics education are more likely to show an interest in politics.

ALICE Model Civics in Schools

Policy Brief

Mock Legislature in Capitals

State and local policy. The best way for students to understand how their elected officials pass laws is to participate in a mock legislative session.

Policy Brief

Districts Plus

State policy. Districts Plus couples the election of state legislators from districts with additional "accountability seats" to ensure that when most voters favor candidates of one political party, that is the party that actually wins the most seats overall.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


Non-Partisan Ballot Labels

State and local policy. Voters are more likely to participate in non-partisan races in an informed way when their ballots include not only the candidates' names, but also information about those candidates' views and associations.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

Presidential Nomination Reform

State and political party policy. The ability of states to decide their own schedules in presidential nominating contests leads to earlier and earlier primary and caucus dates and a lack of rational structure in the nomination process. States can work with parties to establish a more sensible plan for presidential candidate nominations based on randomized, rotating primary and caucus dates.

Policy Brief


Ranked Choice Voting for At-Large Local Elections

Local policy. Cities can have fair and representative elections in at-large contests by using ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting allows nearly all voters to elect a candidate of choice while empowering them to honestly rank candidates in order of preference.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


State Voting Rights Act

State policy. States can protect minority voting rights and keep cases in state court by passing their own state Voting Rights Acts that allow lawsuits against places that dilute the votes of racial minority populations.

Policy Brief

Model Statute


Top Four with Ranked Choice Voting

State and local policy. Places that want to open primary elections to all voters can do so without closing off their general elections to meaningful competition. This can be achieved by using an all-partisan preliminary election that advances four candidates to the general election and conducts that general election by ranked choice voting.

Policy Brief

Model Statute

The_Right_to_Vote.jpgVoting is an American principle and a basic democratic right that should be protected, promoted, and practiced, which is why many people are surprised to learn that the U.S. Constitution provides no explicit right to vote. This leaves voting rights vulnerable to the whims of politicians, and some citizens with fewer rights than others.

More than a decade ago, FairVote became the leading institutional voice calling for the establishment of an explicit individual right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. We believe that a grassroots movement to establish such an amendment would go a long way in ending the "voting wars" that plague us today. FairVote continues to serve as a trusted resource in support of activists, organizations, and elected officials working toward a right to vote amendment. Through our Promote Our Vote project, we work to build widespread support for a right to vote amendment, while advocating for pro-suffrage innovations at the local level. 


Why We Need a Right to Vote Amendment

Even as the rising American electorate gains momentum, new regressive laws, rulings, and maneuvers are threatening voting rights without facing the strict scrutiny that would come with an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. 

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), stripping the Justice Department of the powers it had for five decades to curb racial discrimination in voting. The Election Assistance Commission was left without commissioners for years and frequently faces bills in Congress that would end its existence entirely. Many schools skip civics education, contributing to the decline in voter turnout in local and primary elections.

Enshrining an explicit right to vote in the Constitution would guarantee the voting rights of every citizen of voting age, ensure that every vote is counted correctly, and defend against attempts to effectively disenfranchise eligible voters. It would empower Congress to enact minimum electoral standards to guarantee a higher degree of legitimacy, inclusivity, and consistency across the nation, and give our courts the authority to keep politicians in check when they try to game the vote for partisan reasons.


The Constitution has been amended 27 times. Excluding the Bill of Rights, 7 of the last 17 constitutional amendments have dealt directly with expanding the franchise and improving the way citizens vote. 

Contrary to popular belief, there is not an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution

While the U.S. Constitution bans the restriction of voting based on race, sex and age, it does not explicitly and affirmatively state that all U.S. citizens have a right to vote. The Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore in 2000 that citizens do not have the right to vote for electors for president. States control voting policies and procedures, and as a result, we have a patchwork of inconsistent voting rules run independently by 50 states, 3,067 counties and over 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal. 

Millions of Americans are permanently barred from voting

Approximately 5 million Americans convicted of felonies who have already completed their sentences are permanently disenfranchised. Fourteen states do not have an automatic restoration process in place for returning citizens who have completed their sentences. Some states like Florida leave re-enfranchisement decisions to the discretion of public officials, discretion which could be exercised arbitrarily or used for political gain.

However, it is not only ex-felons who face difficulty registering to vote. Americans living overseas have trouble registering in their home district, because their state may not consider them residents anymore. Many college students attempting to register at their college precinct have faced voter intimidation or were simply refused the ability to register to vote. Such obstacles are not only arbitrary, but in many cases politically motivated.

The Right to Vote Amendment will guarantee all American citizens at least 18 years of age a constitutionally protected individual right to vote. Much like the rights to speech and religion, a constitutionally protected right to vote will be difficult to limit without showing a strong need for the limitation to exist.

State authority over voting creates unnecessary voting difficulties

Voting should be a simple process in which any registered citizen can easily participate. However, this is not always the case. Voter identification and registration requirements, as well as the machines that voters use, vary widely between states. States and counties design their own ballots, pursue their own voter education, and have near-complete authority over their state voting policies and procedures. With over 10,000 different jurisdictions, voters and potential voters are much more likely to cast a counted vote in some states, some counties, and some areas of the country than others, simply based on the difference in standards for each election. Elections in many states are rife with lost and incorrectly counted votes, and many voters are incorrectly told that they cannot cast a ballot. 

Since voting is regulated by the states, there is little the national government can do if voters are intimidated or harassed at the polling booth. With the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to strike down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, and Congress's unwillingness to act to restore key components of the Act, a Right to Vote Amendment is needed to further enforce voting rights.

Congress is powerless to set national standards

At present, Congress can take no action to formally help improve voting standards across the nation. While the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which passed in response to the voting fiasco of the 2000 presidential elections, does establish some standards including a provisional ballot, states are not required to follow these policies. The only way to ensure that every vote is counted and that electors follow the will of the people of their state is to create a constitutionally protected right to vote. The Right to Vote Amendment will give Congress the authority to protect the individual right to vote and oversee voting policies and procedures to ensure that elections are fair, accurate and efficient.


The Bill: House Joint Resolution 74

U.S. House Members Mark Pocan, among a number of other co-sponsors, has shown great leadership in introducing House Joint Resolution 74 (H.J. Res. 74), a bill that would establish an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Read FairVote's policy brief on the right to vote amendment. See the text of the bill below:

SECTION 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.



Right to Vote Resources

Links - FairVote's resource hub on the Right to Vote Amendment - FairVote's project to advance suffrage and civic engagement in communities in the spirit of a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote

FairVote Policy Brief on the Right to Vote Amendment



  • Right to Vote, by Jamie Raskin (The American Prospect, August 2001)



  • Reverend Jesse Jackson addresses the NAACP Convention in Philadelphia, PA July 14, 2004


Academic Papers

  • Election Reform and the Right to Vote, by Anita S. Earls, Director of Advocacy, UNC Center For Civil Rights, explains the limits of HAVA and what Congress can do to establish a right to vote.



History of the Right to Vote

Throughout the history of the United States, voting rights have been expanded repeatedly by Constitutional Amendments and legislation. When the Constitution was written, most of the Framers did not believe in universal suffrage. However, as we have progressed as a society, traditionally disenfranchised groups, including women and racial minorities, have received voting rights through Constitutional Amendments.  Of the 17 Amendments ratified since the Bill of Rights in 1791, seven have expanded voter eligibility or increased democratic participation. Enshrining an affirmative Right to Vote in the Constitution would be one more step toward universal suffrage and equal voting rights for all.

The History of Voting Rights (PDF)


FairVote's "Promote Our Vote" Project

At the local level, FairVote rallies support for a constitutional right to vote through its Promote Our Vote Project, a pilot program most active in Maryland. Its unique change platform works in partnerships to advance resolutions at the organizational, campus, and local level in support of an explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, and concrete changes in practices and policy to ensure fair and equitable voting rights. The program’s leadership consists of two dozen voting rights experts and advocates.

Maryland Resolutions

Based in Maryland, FairVote’s Promote Our Vote Project has worked with local elected officials to build support for city and county right to vote resolutions.

  • Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and the City of Takoma Park have each passed resolutions calling for an explicit right to vote in the constitution and other national voting rights policy changes, such as the passage of the Voting Rights Amendment Act.  

  • These localities have a collective population of approximately two million residents.

  • Montgomery County and Takoma Park resolutions paved the way for right to vote task forces to make policy recommendations and produce reports for recent municipal elections.

  • Additional Maryland cities are considering concrete policy ideas focused on increasing civic engagement and voter turnout.

Florida Resolutions

FairVote’s Promote Our Vote Project provides services to partners in Florida as they advance right to vote resolutions across the state.

  • The University of Florida and Palm Beach State College passed right to vote resolutions through their student governments.

  • These universities have a combined enrollment of over 70,000 students.

  • These resolutions supported a national and state right to vote. They also sought practices and policies that improve the voting process for students.

FairVote’s Promote Our Vote Project worked with Florida New Majority to introduce and successfully pass a right to vote resolution in North Miami.






I have never had a problem voting.  Don’t we already have a right to vote?

American adults living in states typically can vote, but they do not have a federally protected right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. States protect the right to vote to different degrees based on the state’s constitutional language and statutes. The federal government traditionally only steps in to prevent certain broad abuses, such as denying the right to vote based on race (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), or age (26th Amendment).

In most states, counties design their own ballots, pursue their own voter education, have their own policies for handling overseas ballots, hire and train their own poll workers, select polling place locations, and maintain their own voter registration lists. States have wide leeway in determining policies on absentee voting, polling hours and funding of elections. As a result, voters and potential voters have different experiences going through the registration and voting process depending on where they live. These differences can be even more pronounced in some local elections because of varying degrees of federal and state support.

States also currently have the power to explicitly limit the franchise. Current data shows states have chosen to deny nearly six million American citizens the right to vote because of felony convictions, including millions who have completely paid their debt to society. Some states even deny certain classes of overseas voters the right to vote.


Don’t citizens have a right to vote in presidential elections?                                                     

Not necessarily. Article II of the Constitution reads in part: “Each state shall appoint, such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors…” In other words, it is the state legislature and not the citizens of a particular state that determine which presidential candidate receives that state’s electoral votes. In the early decades of the country, several state legislatures actually appointed electors to the Electoral College, rather than hold popular elections in their state. In the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, five justices declared, “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College.” The Court went on to say that Florida’s legislature has the power to take that power away from the people at any time, regardless of the popular vote tally.

In addition, it took a constitutional amendment in 1961 to enable residents of Washington, D.C. to vote for president. But the millions of American citizens living in territories like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam still cannot vote for president.


What administrative problems do we have with voting in the United States and how will a constitutional amendment help?

Without national standards, states are free to create their own voting policies and procedures, which can limit or restrict a citizen’s ability to vote. Only clear standards will ensure that every vote counts. States would be held accountable for running fair elections, and the federal government would be responsible for ensuring that funds were available to meet those high standards.

According to a study of the 2008 presidential election produced by the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2-4 million registered voters were “discouraged” from voting because of administrative hassles, such as long lines, voter identification, and problems obtaining an absentee ballot. The same study reports an estimated 9 million eligible people attempted to register but failed due to voter registration barriers like missed deadlines and changes of residence. A Constitutional Right to Vote will give Congress broad discretion in setting standards to ensure greater equality in election administration.


What groups of Americans would be protected by a right to vote amendment?

Legislation to establish a right to vote states that all American citizens who are of voting age have an individual right to vote “in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” The federal government would protect this individual right to vote, thus making it more difficult for states or localities to disenfranchise groups or maintain procedures that make it unnecessarily difficult for citizens to vote. It would enfranchise all those who had been stripped of the right to vote due to a felony conviction and would  pave the way for voters in Washington, D.C. to vote for a federal representative and Senators. In general, it would create more ways for individuals to ensure that their county and state use procedures that give citizens’ the ability to vote.


Will citizens in the territories (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam) be able to vote for president?

At present, residents of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam are all citizens of the U.S.  They pay taxes and can be drafted into the military, but do not vote for president.  While this amendment would not specifically give citizens of the territories the right to vote automatically, it does open the doorway for them to gain the ability to vote for president.


What about American Samoa?

Residents of American Samoa are not actually American citizens; they are nationals. Current legislation to establish a right to vote specifies that only American citizens would have a right to vote, so nationals would not be included.


Will non-citizens and 16-year-olds be able to vote?

Under this amendment the decision about expanding the franchise to non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds would remain within states’ jurisdiction.


Does the amendment get rid of the Electoral College?

The amendment does not specifically comment on the Electoral College. However, by declaring that every U.S. citizen has a constitutional right to vote, it does lay the groundwork for an argument against the Electoral College.  But if the Electoral College remains, the amendment would bind state legislatures to appoint presidential electors based on the popular vote of the people.


How is this amendment different from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)?

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was a statute passed in response to the Florida election debacle and the systemic voting irregularities seen across the country after the 2000 presidential election.  This act establishes some helpful standards. For example, it includes section on provisional ballots that allows a person to cast a vote if the person believes he or she is registered but does not appear on the voter register of that precinct.  However, HAVA falls short because it does not set guidelines for how those provisional ballots should be counted.

Furthermore, the Act does nothing for the millions of Americans who are permanently disenfranchised in a dozen states because they are ex-felons. It does not prevent states from wrongly purging voters or engaging in other activities that limit the franchise. Fundamentally, it does not grant a right to vote. States still have the authority to direct electors to vote for a candidate of the legislature’s choice. A constitutionally protected right to vote is the only means to ensure that every American will be protected.


Does the amendment guarantee statehood for Washington, DC?

The Right to Vote Amendment does not specifically call for statehood for Washington, D.C. and its half million residents. However, the amendment does guarantee that all Americans who reside in our nation’s capital have a constitutionally protected individual right to vote, which could lead the way to full representation in Congress.


Is the right to vote a partisan issue?

No. The Supreme Court and many of our leaders from across the spectrum have affirmed the importance of the right to vote. Some may mistakenly believe that the amendment takes authority away from the states and moves it to the federal level, but in fact the amendment only ensures states meet certain clear standards in how they protect the right to vote. By ensuring that every American has an individual right to vote that is protected by the Constitution, this amendment establishes voting as an individual right, not just a privilege given by the states.


voter_Pre-registration_image.pngToo many young eligible voters are not registered to vote. FairVote proposes that all states establish a uniform voter preregistration age. Our suggested age is sixteen, as adopted in states like Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. Upon reaching voting age, pre-registered voters are automatically added to the voting rolls and, ideally, sent information about the mechanics of voting and the timing of the first election for which they are eligible. Evidence collected from states suggests this change will have limited or no fiscal impact, but will have a direct impact on voter registration rates and participation when implemented effectively.

FairVote is proud to be a long-time supporter of voter pre-registration, and was the first national organization to originally support the reform. Other pro-democracy organizations have taken up the mantle for pre-registration legislation, and FairVote no longer takes an active role in advancing this issue. However, we proudly maintain a set of helpful research and resources for those who want to learn more and work to adopt voter pre-registration in states across the country.



Voter Pre-Registration FAQ

Does a national voter registration age already exist?

No. In some states, all 17-year-olds and some 16-year-olds can register. In other states, some 17-year-olds and no 16-year-olds can register. In many states eligibility changes year to year based on the date of the next election. The lack of uniformity creates confusion and makes it harder to run effective voter registration and education programs in schools and at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).


Does voter pre-registration affect the legal voting age?

No, Lowering the advance-registration age does not change the voting age. The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sets the voting age at 18 years old. Local and state jurisdictions can lower the voting age if they so choose, but this is separate policy from voter registration.


Why is 16 years old a sensible age for advance registration?

  • When applying for a driver’s license, a 16-year-old can register to vote at the DMV.

  • 16 years old is the compulsory school attendance age limit in most states. 

  • Many states already allow 16-year-olds to register during parts of the election cycle.


Why aren’t the current registration programs in high schools good enough?

Registration drives typically do not focus on anyone other than seniors, and generally are most effective only during presidential election years. Currently, there is no statutory requirement for voter registration in schools. Implementation of a standardized voting curriculum would encourage students to learn about the mechanics of participation (i.e. requesting absentee ballots).


Does registering to vote at a younger age have long-term benefits?

Yes. Some states have already recognized the importance of early participation by allowing 17-year-olds to serve as full-time election judges. In addition, voter pre-registration has the potential to boost turnout. Academic studies and electoral analyses show that voting behavior is habit-forming. If you vote, you will likely keep voting. If you don’t vote, you probably won’t start. Its important to engage prospective voters early on to create a habit of voting and civic engagement.


Will this require states to adopt a new voter registration system?

No, a uniform pre-registration age does not require a new registration database system. In many states, advance-registered voters already are inputted into the voter registration database as “pending.” A State’s Board of Elections transfers “pending” voters to “active” status when they become eligible to vote.


Best Practices: Hawaii and Florida

In 2009, Dr. Michael P. McDonald, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, secured funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts to study voter pre-registration and implementation tactics in the two states with a pre-registration age of 16: Hawaii, where it became law in 1993, and Florida, where it passed in 2007. Dr. McDonald’s key finding is that voter pre-registration seems to have a measurable impact on voter registration when certain actions are taken to reach out to young people. Here are successful elements of these states’ voter pre-registration programs. 

  • In Florida, Supervisor of Elections staff came to schools for one day and conducted registration drives through individual classroom visits or school-wide assemblies. 

  • Student groups (such as Student Government Associations) and teachers have conducted their own drives on a volunteer basis, after being trained by election staff.

  • At registration drives, students can be given “I registered” stickers or other paraphernalia to show their pride and encourage others, including their parents, to register and vote.

  • Registration forms can be made available in school and public libraries and other public venues, without any active encouragement.

  • Officials can mail forms to students eligible for pre-registration by using the school rosters and enclosing registration forms with handouts that most students receive (like diplomas).

  • In Hawaii, election officials have mailed registration forms to every eligible student, coordinated with volunteers to organize registration drives (schools are not required to participate), and worked with larger efforts similar to Rock the Vote to conduct assemblies.

The Low Cost of Voter Pre-Registration

Pre-registration does not require a new registration database system nor any new software, equipment, or personnel. In fact, in many states, pre-registered voters are already put into the voter registration database as “pending” and are transferred to “active” status once they become eligible to vote.

In states where voter pre-registration has been implemented, the proposed legislation has typically had a fiscal note stating that the bill would have "zero impact" on the state's budget. Moreover, modifications to voter registration information technology systems are typically accomplished through internal staff time and managed within existing resources.

The fiscal notes for the pre-registration bills in Washington and Maryland, for example, stated that pre-registration would have no fiscal impact for the state Department of Licensing. Indeed, the only costs that could not be managed through the state's current staff and resources were related to determining whether the current election management systems had the capability to hold pending applications for up to two years, and to withhold pre-registration records from public inspection and copying.

Some additional changes may need to be made, including revision of registration forms. However, these changes can be strategically managed by election officials, so that implementation is tied to when new forms are scheduled to be printed.

  • Voter registration cards may need to be updated and existing stock of old cards replaced. Printing cost is tied to the implementation date, and a good time to implement is after an election year as cards are typically replenished then anyway.

  • Computer programs at the state board and DMV must be updated. At the state board, the coding of state-wide voter registration databases must be updated in order to establish a procedure for activating pre-registered voters when they become eligible to vote. This is only necessary for the changes involving use of the date-of-birth field. At the DMV, the software has to be updated to change when staffers offer registration to young persons.

  • There may be mailing costs for the county. For example, the North Carolina practice is to send a letter of acknowledgment to a pre-registered young person explaining their status.

  • School outreach may need to be more frequent. For example, voter registration drives in high schools may be annual instead of biannual. This additional voter education could also be managed in partnership with high schools and local community groups.



FairVote Policy Guide: Youth Voter Pre-Registration

Analysis: Dr. Michael McDonald analyzes the effects of voter pre-registration in a 2009 report. 


State-By-State Guide: Voter Preregistration

This table includes information on when and in what states 16- and 17-year-olds can preregister to vote, organized by state. This information was last updated in January 2016.

infogram_0_16__and_17_year_old_preregistration_by_state16- and 17-Year-Old Preregistration By State//




FairVote supports cities lowering the voting age to 16 in their local elections. Empirical evidence suggests that the earlier in life a voter casts their first ballot, the more likely they are to develop voting as a habit. While one’s first reaction might be to question the ability of young voters to cast a meaningful vote, research shows that 16- and 17-year-olds are as informed and engaged in political issues as older voters. It is time that they are empowered to put that knowledge to good use at the polls, and make voting a habit in their formative years. These young citizens are old enough to drive, work without restrictions on their hours, and pay taxes--they should also have a voice in their local government.

FairVote has served as a thought leader and catalyst for lowering the voting age to 16 in cities, playing a critical role at the local level in Takoma Park ( MD), which became the first U.S. city to lower the voting age in 2013, and later Hyattsville (MD), which followed in 2015. We provide resources and advice to local reformers through resources here and at our Promote Our Vote project. Advocacy leaders as of early 2018 include Generation Citizen and the National Youth Rights Association.


Why should we lower the voting age to 16?

At first glance, many assume that 16-year-olds are unable to make mature and informed decisions about voting, that they will not turn out to vote, or that they will just vote the way their parents tell them to. However, research indicates that all three of those assumptions are untrue and are not a reason to keep local governments from extending voting rights to 16-year-olds.

Reasons to lower the voting age include the following:

  • Extending voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is consistent with the fact that turning 16 has special significance in our culture. At age 16, citizens can drive, pay taxes, and for the first time work without any restriction on hours. It’s also a matter of fairness: when unable to vote until turning 18, some citizens won’t have a chance to vote for their mayor until they are almost 22. Long-time backers of a lower voting age, like the National Youth Rights Association, make this fairness argument as well.

  • This change has worked in practice. Two Maryland cities have successfully extended municipal voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds. Several nations, including Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom have extended voting rights to 16-year-olds for national, regional, or local elections. Additionally, more than 15 states already allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries to nominate candidates for president, Congress, and governor.  

  • Research indicates that there is a “trickle up” effect on civic participation. When 16- and 17-year-olds engage in civics, conversations about politics and local issues are brought to the dinner table. Parents and family members are engaged in civic life through the 16- and 17-year-olds in their household, with a positive impact on voter turnout for people of all ages.

  • A detailed study of voters' ages and habits in Denmark found that 18-year-olds were far more likely to cast their "first vote" than 19-year-olds, and that every month of extra age in those years resulted in a decline in "first vote" turnout. Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections will enable them to vote before leaving home and high school, and establish a lifelong habit of voting. Evidence from Austria confirms that extending voting rights to people after they turn 16 promotes higher turnout for first-time voters and over time. Austria's experience also shows that 16- and 17-year-olds are ready to contribute sound decision making and quality participation in democracy.


In Practice in the U.S.

FairVote played a vital role in Takoma Park, MD's extending municipal voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in 2013. The results in Takoma Park have been incredibly positive, affirming the growing body of research indicating several benefits of lowering the voting age. In 2013, Takoma Park 16- and 17-year-olds voted at twice the rate of voters 18 and older. Residents also support the measure: In an exit poll of an April 2014 Takoma Park special election, 72% of participants supported keeping voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds in city elections.

Hyattsville, MD, with FairVote’s support, followed Takoma Park’s lead and adopted 16- and 17-year-old voting in January of 2015. 

Research and Resources

  • Our coverage of Hyattsville's decision to lower the voting age at the blog.
  • A Scottish study from 2014 finds that 16- and 17-year-old voters are just as political as older counterparts, and that there is no strong association with the voting intentions of their parents.
  • An Austrian study from 2012 finds that the quality of 16- and 17-year-old citizens' choices were the same as older voters'.
  • A Rutgers study finds that 16- and 17-year-olds are both neurologically and socially mature enough to vote responsibly.
  • This piece by Democratic Audit UK argues that while lowering the voting age is not a panacea for youth engagement, it is essential for democracy.


Poster - Register to Vote HereUniversal voter registration would modernize voter registration in the United States. Government would be responsible for maintaining accurate and complete voter rolls, shifting our system from its current opt-in structure to an opt-out structure. Automatic universal voter registration would significantly reduce duplications and omissions on the voter rolls, resulting in a system that balances the twin goals of election accessibility and security.

FairVote is proud to be a long-time supporter of universal voter registration, and was the first national voting organization to originally support the reform. Other pro-democracy organizations have taken up the mantle for comprehensive voter registration legislation, and FairVote no longer takes an active role in advancing this issue. However, we proudly maintain a set of helpful resources for those who want to learn more and advance universal voter registration in states across the country.


Why We Need Universal Voter Registration

Complete and accurate voter rolls are essential to the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of results. Yet, as evidenced by recent elections, voter rolls are littered with duplicate registrants and errors. Nearly a third of eligible American voters are not registered to vote and voter registration drives result in a surge of registrations close to an election that are difficult to process and that create unanticipated demands on polling places. As a result, millions of eligible voters are effectively shut out of the political process.

While no voter registration process is perfect, ours is riddled with flaws. The United States is one of only a few democracies in the world where the government does not take responsibility for registering voters.  Instead, our government leaves the construction of voter rolls up to partisan and non-partisan voter registration organizations, political parties, election officials, and active citizens. Sadly, this hands off approach invites voter registration fraud. It is not surprising that voter rolls are neither complete nor accurate.

In contrast, the international norm is an orderly process of automatic registration of every citizen who reaches voting age and of every person who becomes a citizen. Citizens are automatically placed on voter rolls upon reaching voting age and/or government officials actively work to register all citizens.  For example, in Iraq's first democratic elections, election officials automatically transferred the names of Iraqis from ration lists to voter rolls.

Voter registration should be the mutual responsibility of citizens and their government.  The government should not only facilitate registration; it should actively register adults who are eligible to vote as part of its responsibility to have accurate rolls. 100% voter registration should be the goal.  Moreover, universal voter registration has the potential to bring together conservatives who are concerned about fraudulent voter registrations and liberals who are concerned about anemic political participation.

The most comprehensive way to move toward universal voter registration is to establish federal standards that states must follow to ensure all eligible voters are on their states' voter roll. These standards must also be twinned with a failsafe to ensure citizens that are not on the rolls can register and vote on Election Day. The federal standards should also set a national uniform voter registration age of 16-years-old, where youth are systematically registered to vote and automatically added to the voter rolls upon reaching voting age.

Governor Kate Brown signs Even before we have a national standard, states can take immediate action. States like Florida and Hawaii have already set a uniform voter registration age of 16. Oregon passed first-of-its-kind automatic voter registration legislation in 2015, ensuring that any eligible Oregonian with a driver's license will be automatically registered to vote and will receive a ballot by mail weeks before Election Day. Several states are also working toward automatic voter registration policies, where citizens filing state tax returns are systematically registered to vote. States can also tie Post Office Change of Address forms to the voter registration database and utilize existing state databases to move toward a system of universal voter registration.

However best achieved, we believe that such changes would register far more citizens in an orderly way, generate more understanding of the value of 100% registration, and provide a means to systematically introduce young people to the importance of political participation. We see a natural complement to this proposal being a "voting curriculum" for high school students.



FairVote Policy Guide: Universal Voter Registration

The Canadian Model

Massachusetts Health Care Model

An International Perspective

The Brennan Center for Justice on Voter Registration Modernization


Voter Registration Guide

This table presents state-by-state deadlines for voter registration. Information is provided on the last possible day to register in each state, and the different deadlines for in-person, mail-in, online, or third party registration in each state as necessary. infogram_0_voter_registration_deadlinesVoter Registration Deadlines//

infogram_0_voter_registration_deadlines_tableVoter Registration Deadlines Table//

Last Updated January 2016

Districts Plus allows a state to elect its state legislature in districts while also ensuring a fair and proportional outcome statewide. It makes every vote in every district meaningful in every election, and it ensures that the political party whose candidates receive the most votes statewide wins the most seats statewide.

Districts Plus is a candidate-based form of voting known internationally as mixed-member proportional representation, because it combines local representation in districts with extra accountability seats to ensure fair outcomes statewide.


Districts Plus for State Legislatures

Districts Plus can be used to elect state legislatures, in order to retain the use of districts but also ensure fair outcomes overall and make every vote important in every election. Most representatives continue to be elected in districts, but the overall statewide vote received by a party's candidates is determined, and then extra "accountability seats" are awarded to ensure fair representation. This ensures that every party has an incentive to field a candidate in every district, and it means that a vote for a party nominee will help that party win seats, even if that particular nominee cannot win in that particular district.

Jack Nagel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania describes state legislatures as the most suitable setting for implementation of Districts Plus.

To see how Districts Plus could work in your state, see our one page policy brief and its accompanying model state constitutional amendment, from FairVote's Policy Guide 2016.

Districts Plus for the Michigan House of Representatives

Michigan's current process for drawing district lines has resulted in highly problematic outcomes. In 2012, Democratic candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives won about 54% of the two-party vote, but they won only 46% of seats, with Republican nominees instead winning control of the state legislature. More than 75% of district elections were won by a margin greater than 10%, suggesting a lack of competition in most legislative elections. Districts Plus can help resolve these issues:


FairVote has developed a comprehensive Districts Plus plan for the Michigan House of Representatives. To learn more about how Districts Plus would work in Michigan, read that report here.


Districts Plus Around the World

Districts Plus is a candidate-based form of voting known internationally as mixed-member proportional representation, or "MMP." MMP is used successfully in national elections in several countries, including Germany and New Zealand. To see how MMP works, watch this video from popular YouTube educator, CGP Grey:

See FairVote's blogs on Germany's 2009 ElectionsScotland's use of MMP, and proportional representation methods in Malta for more on what Districts Plus could and does do in international elections to improve representation, or watch this video about MMP in New Zealand.

The open ticket system is a form of fair representation voting that combines the benefits of fair and proportional representation with simplicity for voters and election administrators. Every voter votes for exactly one candidate in a partisan election, and the party whose candidates win a majority of votes in the district always win a majority of seats, while smaller groups can also elect their fair share. When used internationally, open ticket voting is known as the unordered open list system.


How Open Ticket Voting Works

In an open ticket election, voters cast one vote in a partisan election to elect multiple candidates at-large or in a multi-winner district. The open ticket method in multi-winner elections is a form of fair representation voting.

As in ranked choice voting, if any candidates win more than a certain share of votes, called the threshold, then those candidates are elected. The threshold is the number of votes that guarantees that the candidate will win, because it would be mathematically impossible for them to lose. For example, in a three-winner district, the threshold is 25%, because if one candidate receives more than 25% of the votes, then it is impossible for three other candidates to beat them. In a four-winner district, the threshold is 20%; in a five-winner district, it is about 17%.

Unlike ranked choice voting, voters do not rank candidates. Instead, votes for candidates from one political party help elect other candidates from the same political party. For example, if one political party's candidates collectively receive 60% of the vote in a three-seat district, that party will win two out of three seats, and the two candidates elected will be the two candidates from that party with the most votes. If another party received the other 40%, that party would win the remaining seat, and its top candidate would be elected.

After counting votes and electing candidates above the threshold, administrators would use a proportional representation formula, like the Jefferson's method (named after Thomas Jefferson, who introduced it for use in allocating seats in the House of Representatives in 1791), to determine how many seats to award to each party. Then, the highest vote-getters from those parties are elected. Independent candidates can still run and win election by receiving more votes than the threshold.

Additionally, candidates should be able to optionally list a second back-up political party, in the tradition of fusion voting. That way, if a smaller political party's candidates do not receive enough votes to win a seat, then their votes can help elect candidates from their back-up parties instead.

Because open ticket voting involves only casting one vote for one candidate, it can be administered using any existing voting equipment, and votes can be counted at the precinct level before being reported.

Electoral_districts_of_Finland.jpgOpen Ticket Voting Around the World

The open ticket system is based on the method used for parliamentary elections in Finland, there called the "unordered open list system." Similar methods are used in Brazil and in Latvia. Finland divides into multi-winner districts that elect between six and 35 members (with one autonomous administrative region electing a single member as well), demonstrating how the open ticket method can comfortably accommodate elections with large numbers of candidates and a large number of elected seats. 


Top Four operates like the Top Two primary used in California and Washington - but it gives more voice to voters in the November election.

Under both Top Two and Top Four, nominating primary elections (whether open, closed, or semi-closed) are abolished and replaced with a single preliminary election. Under Top Two, every candidate seeking office runs against every other in the preliminary election. They all appear on the same ballot irrespective of political party preference, and voters vote for one. Then, the general election features the two candidates who received the most votes, even if both identify with the same political party.

Although Top Two does allow voters to participate on equal footing whether they affiliate with a political party or not, the limitation to two in the general election severely limits voter choices and independent voices in general election debates, undermining some of its admirable goals.

Top Four uses the same type of preliminary election used in Top Two, but instead of advancing only two candidates to the general election, it advances four. Then, the general election makes use of ranked choice voting so that voters can rank the candidates who advance.


Why Top Four Gives More Voice to Voters

More Choices

When only two candidates advance, voters have limited choice in the general election. More voters participate in general elections than primary elections (of any type), and so what choices voters have in the general election matters. Under Top Two, most races feature only one Democrat and one Republican. A minority of races feature only two Democrats or two Republicans, meaning that even fewer voters will have a candidate in the race they support. Independents and "third party" candidates almost never advance a candidate under Top Two in elections where both Democrats and Republicans run.

Top Four would likely advance both a Democrat and a Republican in every race. Nearly every race would also feature more than one candidate from one of the two major parties. And a significantly higher number of races would include a candidate outside of the two major parties. This allows voters to hear a broader spectrum of opinion in the debates, and it ensures that many more voters will have the opportunity to vote for a candidate they support.

More Competition

Most elections under Top Two still feature one Republican and one Democrat, even in heavily partisan districts, but under Top Two voters lack any alternative candidates. Only very rarely does Top Two advance two candidates from the same party, which may render a more competitive race in heavily partisan districts, but that comes at the cost of providing no choices outside of the majority party to any voters within that district. And often such races happen as a result of vote-splitting among a large number of candidates in the preliminary.

On the other hand, Top Four would advance two candidates from the majority party in nearly every race. It would also advance at least one candidate from each major party. And it would advance far more Independent and alternative party candidates. Top Four would thus accomplish the goals of Top Two better than Top Two while avoiding the pitfalls that have led to many opposing the system.

A More Representative Electorate

Under Top Two, most candidates are eliminated after the preliminary election, yet typically about half as many voters participate in that preliminary election as in the general election. Further, that small group of voters tends to be older, more conservative, and less representative of racial minority populations. Top Four would ensure that this group of voters would not have the power to eliminate otherwise viable candidates that the more representative general election voters may support.

Avoids "Vote Splitting"

In a vote-for-one preliminary election with a large number of candidates, votes may split up in such a way that neither the first or second-place candidates are representative of a majority of voters. For example, in California's Congressional District 31 in 2012, a majority Democratic, majority-minority district advanced only two white, conservative Republicans to the general election. This was because only those two Republicans ran, while four candidates ran as Democrats, splitting the Democratic vote too evenly among them. As another example, Louisiana's 2015 first round of election (note that although Louisiana does not use Top Two, the system operates similarly if no candidate wins a majority in the first round of election) eliminated all but one Republican, and that candidate was likely the weakest Republican in the race, ultimately leading to the election of a Democratic governor in an overwhelmingly Republican state.

With Top Four, any candidate receiving at least 20% of the vote in the preliminary election is guaranteed to proceed to the general election, and in fact candidates can expect to advance with far less than that. As a result, no viable candidate is likely to be left out of the general election. Then, the use of ranked choice voting in the general election ensures that vote-splitting will not affect the outcome of the general election.


Top Four Research

FairVote has analyzed election results from California and Washington - the two states using Top Two - to see how it is working, what issues arise, and how it can be improved.

For both states, we demonstrate how elections would have been different had four candidates advanced from the preliminary election rather than just two. In both states, that simple change would result in more races including both Democrats and Republicans, including more than one Republican or more than one Democrat, and including candidates who choose to run outside of the two major parties.

To learn more, see:

Top Two in Washington State

Fixing Top Two in California

Recommended Reforms to California's Top Two

An interstate compact for fair representation is an agreement between two (or more) states that each will adopt fair representation voting in multi-winner districts if the other does as well. It represents an innovative way for states to move forward toward a fairer and more representative Congress.

Two states - one controlled by one party and one controlled by another - can agree to become fair together. For example, a Democratic-controlled state whose districts unfairly advantage Democrats could join with a Republican-controlled state whose districts unfairly advantage Republicans. That way, the majority party in each state does not feel as though they are "unilaterally disarming." Both act together, or not at all.

Although a national standard is the best approach to achieving fair representation for all, states can act right now to promote fair representation through interstate compacts. An interstate compact is a binding contract between two states. If either state repeals or fails to implement fair representation voting in multi-winner districts, the other ceases to be bound by the compact.

The Potomac Compact

On February 5, 2016, Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin introduced an example of an interstate compact for fair representation, which he called the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation. Delegate Al Carr reintroduced the Potomac Compact on January 30, 2017. 

Under the Potomac Compact, Maryland and Virginia (if it also passed the compact) would each send citizens to a joint independent redistricting commission. That commission could then implement a multi-winner district plan: Maryland would divide into two districts, each electing four; Virginia would divide into three districts, two of which elect three and one of which elects five. Within those districts, voters would use ranked choice voting or another fair representation voting method.

Our analysis suggests that such a plan would allow voters in every part of both states to elect candidates from the major party they prefer. With ranked choice voting, every voter would be in a meaningfully contested election, and the outcomes would be far more fair than they are in either state now. It could do all that for both states without changing the overall partisan impact for either political party, making it a safe political choice for both states.

On March 3, 2016, FairVote testified in Maryland in favor of the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation.

Since 1967, a federal statute has required all states to elect all Members of the U.S. House of Representatives in single-winner districts, even though many states had historically elected at-large or in multi-winner districts. Although the law was well-intentioned, it has locked in a system of manipulation of district lines for political gain.

At a minimum, Congress should repeal that mandate, returning to states the right to use multi-winner elections for their congressional delegations. To accommodate the concerns over use of at-large elections to dilute the votes of political and racial minorities, Congress should require that any state using multi-winner elections must do so in a way that allows such minorities to elect candidates of choice.

As an example of such a proposal, FairVote recommends the State Choice of Voting Method Act. That Act would merely repeal the 1967 single-winner district mandate and specify that any state using multi-winner elections must use a voting method that satisfies three criteria:

  1. The election method ensures majority rule and equal voting power;
  2. The method ensures that if a candidate receives more than one-third of votes cast in a multi-winner election, then that candidate will be elected; and
  3. The election method does not violate the Voting Rights Act.

In short, the Act specifies that if a state uses multi-winner elections, it must also use fair representation voting.

These fair representation voting methods are already in use in over 200 cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions. From 1870 to 1980, Illinois elected its state house of representatives with fair representation voting. Most democratic countries elect their national legislatures in multi-winner elections. 

The Act draws on a similar bill introduced in 1999 by Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) and co-sponsored by Members including James Clyburn (D-SC) and Tom Campbell (R-CA). It received favorable testimony from the Department of Justice.

To learn more about the State Choice of Voting Method Act, see our one-page policy brief and model statute.

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