On a quiet Mississippi road, one evening in June 1964, a gang of Ku Klux Klansmen attacked three workers canvassing with the Congress of Racial Equality. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, all under 25, had volunteered their summers to register African Americans throughout Mississippi to vote after decades of suppression by Jim Crow laws. The next morning, police discovered their burned-out car in a ditch; the three young civil rights advocates were reported missing. Five weeks later, their mutilated bodies were discovered 15 feet underground on a nearby farm.
Years after the Freedom Summer murders, voter registration issues still loom large in America: one in four eligible citizens is not registered to vote; one in eight voter registrations are significantly inaccurate; and racial minorities and the poor are significantly less likely to be registered than white, financially secure Americans. From 2011 to 2014, nine states passed laws that made it harder for citizens to register to vote. Four states passed laws that restricted voter registration drives, even though research shows African Americans and Hispanics are twice as likely to register through a drive than whites. Three states passed laws which require registrants to provide documentary proof of citizenship. According to a 2006 study by the Brennan Center, seven percent of Americans do not have such proof readily available.
In an attempt to modernize the voting process and limit voter suppression, 10 state legislatures (and the D.C. City Council) have implemented variations of an Automatic Voter Registration system. Automatic voter registration, as defined by the Brennan Institute, registers all “eligible citizens who interact with government agencies,” unless they opt out.