Today marks the 20th anniversary of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), aka the “Motor Voter Act,” which allowed Americans to register to vote at federal government offices with which they regularly interface. Before NVRA passed in 1993, Americans could only register to vote at their local registrar’s office, which could be inconvenient because those offices were often open for limited days and hours, and usually understaffed. If you couldn’t get off work to access the registrar’s office when it was open, then there were tremendous burdens around getting registered.
Since NVRA was passed, citizens can now register to vote when they go to public assistance offices to apply for welfare or disability benefits, or at their local DMV when they apply for a drivers license – hence the nickname “Motor Voter Act” – and also allowed for mailed-in registration forms. The result was that over 30 million people registered via the new paths opened by NVRA in its first year.
The public policy think tank Demos is today asking for the federal government to further expand access to voter registration by creating more paths. One way they suggest, in their report “Registering Millions,” is by offering voter registration through U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services so that immigrants can immediately register upon their naturalization.
According to the report, naturalized Americans who are already registered to vote turn out on Election Day at rates similar to native-born, and in some instances even higher. Their are huge gaps though in the registration and general voter participation rates between naturalized and native citizens. Setting up registration at naturalization ceremonies could help close that gap Demos suggests.
They also recommend opening voter registration at Indian Health Services offices, noting that two out of five American Indians and Alaska Natives are not registered to vote though eligible. The report also calls for modernizing the antiquated voter registration systems and implementing same-day registration, so that voters aren’t purged due to errors, restrictive laws or because of pressure applied from anti-voting rights groups.
Voter registration has a long ugly history in America, particularly for African Americans and people of color. These recommendations seek to correct that.