What federal voting rights law, according to the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, is the election statute most often ignored? It’s the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), a law that each year helps millions of citizens with either updating their voter registration records or applying to vote for the first time. Below I explain what the NVRA is, its impact and the challenges it has faced in being put into practice. The NVRA is often referred to as “Motor Voter,” but it is more complex than this implies. The NVRA requires states, among other things, to accept voter registration applications by mail and to offer voter registration services at government offices providing state identification and drivers’ licenses (hence “motor”), armed forces recruitment centers, and government offices providing services to people with low incomes or disabilities. This post focuses on the requirement to register voters at health and social services agencies (or, simply “agencies” in this post). This is a requirement that many states are ignoring or implementing poorly.
While many nations actively — some almost automatically — register their citizens to vote, the U.S. has long required citizens to hunt down registration forms and follow various procedures in order to exercise the franchise. The NVRA was intended to turn this around, at least in part, by requiring some government agencies to actively offer you the chance to register to vote.
Thus the NVRA requires not simply that offices stack voter registration applications on a table near the door. Rather, the law requires officials to ask, during certain agency interactions with the public, if these people would like to register to vote or update a voting address.