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National Voter Registration Act Compliance

Universal Voter Registration: A New Initiative to Increase Electoral Participation and Reduce Voter Suppression

The elections of 2008 served as a critical test of the nation's election systems.  With changes in voting machines and procedures, coupled with expectations of record voter turnout, election administrators held their breath and hoped their system wouldn't fail. 

While the system didn't fail, voters faced serious obstacles in exercising their right to vote.  Voter registration ended up being the problem that affected the largest number of voters.  Even before the first votes were cast, it was apparent that our voter registration systems were woefully inadequate.  While in other nations 90% or more of the eligible voter population is registered to vote, in the United States less than 75% of eligible voters are registered.

We can do better.

Overview

While national NVRA compliance has dropped off sharply, some states have reinvigorated their efforts and as a result have seen major upswings in the number of voters that are being registered, especially at public assistance agencies.  Working in collaboration with Demos and Project Vote, the North Carolina Board of Elections has implemented a compliance plan that has increased monthly registrations from 484 in the years 2004 through 2006, to 2,529 in 2007.  Iowa, Oregon, and Tennessee have also made concerted efforts to improve compliance.

Public assistance agencies have seen the most significant compliance problems, and they also provide the best opportunities to register voters whose voices are underrepresented in the electorate.  Project Vote has composed a basic five part strategy that will help election officials achieve compliance at these agencies:

  1. Know the NVRA's public agency registration requirements (NVRA Section 7).
  2. Communicate frequently with agency managers and staff.
  3. Provide training and support to agency personnel.
  4. Monitor registrations from public assistance agencies.
  5. Review agency registration performance and act on your findings.

Project Vote has also drafted model legislation in collaboration with Demos that outlines more specifically the steps needed to get a state in compliance with the federal law.  With a very small outlay of resources and a bit of interest and leadership, compliance with the federal law is easily obtainable.  Therefore, ensuring compliance should be a priority for all legislators interested in increasing electoral participation in their state.