Automatic Voter Registration

Modern times call for modern voter registration. More than two decades into the 21st century, we need practical solutions that make voter registration more secure, accessible, and efficient. Millions of eligible voters either remain unregistered to vote or are registered at an out of date address. Additionally, too many voters are still forced to use outdated paper forms for registration, creating delays, inaccuracies, and unnecessary work for election officials.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) offers a modern and secure solution, leveraging the information people already provide in other government transactions for voter registration. AVR helps add eligible people to the rolls and keeps records up-to-date for existing voters.

When people apply for a driver’s license or enroll in Medicaid, they provide state agencies with all of the information necessary for voter registration. AVR creates a default rule to electronically share this information with election officials. If a person is eligible to register, their information is used for registration or updating, unless the person declines.

AVR improves accessibility and efficiency, using routine government agency transactions to register people to vote and keep registration records current and accurate. This process helps both voters and election officials by streamlining voter registration and updating. Every voter registered through AVR is a person who does not need to register through a paper form or at the polls on election day, saving time and money for election officials. Better address data from state agencies also avoids election mail being sent to the wrong address.

As shown in the map above, 25 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted AVR.  However, not all states have adopted the same form of AVR, and some forms of AVR are more effective and efficient than others. The two major types of AVR are Secure Automatic Voter Registration (Secure AVR) and Partial Automatic Voter Registration (Partial AVR). Read more below about the differences between Secure AVR and Partial AVR.

What form of voter registration is the best?

Paper Registration PAVR SAVR
Allows eligible voters to register to vote
Can be made available at DMVs and Medicaid offices
Creates a convenient system for eligible voters to register to vote as a part of qualifying agency transactions
Automatically shares eligible voter information with election officials for registration
Saves taxpayers money
Improves accuracy of the voter rolls
Reduces paper forms, undeliverable mail, and issues on Election Day
Identifies and offramps ineligible applicants to ensure only eligible voters end up on voter rolls *
Saves time for eligible voters who register at participating agencies
Consistently registers 95%+ of eligible voters during transactions
Eases burden of clerks by fully automating voter registration transaction

* Optional. Several states like PA and GA have implemented this feature

Types of Automatic Voter Registration

Secure Automatic Voter Registration

Secure AVR is the most efficient, effective, and secure form of AVR. Secure AVR relies on the documents provided as part of the agency transaction to fully streamline registration for clearly eligible people.

If a person has provided proof of U.S. citizenship and other eligibility requirements for registration as part of an agency transaction, a Secure AVR system automatically shares their information with election officials for registration. Election officials use this information for registration and send the person a letter in the mail notifying them of the change and providing a prepaid return mailer that can be used to decline. By contrast, anyone who provides proof of non-citizenship is automatically filtered out of any registration opportunity.

Secure AVR is extremely effective at keeping registration records accurate, registering only U.S. citizens to vote, and preventing erroneous registrations by non-citizens. The Secure AVR process consistently registers over 95% of eligible people, while ensuring that registration records are as current and accurate as possible.

Secure AVR also streamlines agency transactions, by reducing the number of questions about voter registration that must be added to a DMV or Medicaid application. Shorter transactions reduce lines and can improve overall customer satisfaction.

Secure AVR also saves substantial funds for election officials. By registering and updating as many voters as possible through state agencies, Secure AVR reduces paper forms, undeliverable mail, and issues on Election Day, avoiding unnecessary costs.

Partial Automatic Voter Registration

Partial AVR is a more limited form of automatic registration that utilizes a less streamlined system – it can save money for election officials by reducing paper forms, undeliverable mail, and issues on election day. Partial AVR also represents a substantial improvement over a non-streamlined, non-automatic system for registration at state agencies. These systems can help states register hundreds of thousands of voters and improve the accuracy of voter rolls.

Although Partial AVR can be a great first step for states looking to adopt AVR, it has several shortcomings, especially in comparison to Secure AVR, that states should consider.

By design, Partial AVR systems are less efficient and effective than other forms of AVR, and if not carefully designed, can increase the risk of erroneous registrations. One of the reasons being is that Partial AVR relies on customer-facing questions during the agency transaction. Rather than utilizing documents already presented and verified during the agency transaction, these systems require DMV and Medicaid applicants to answer a series of questions about voter registration during the application process. Customers must swear under penalty of perjury that they are eligible to vote (even if that has already been established) and are presented with the opportunity to decline registration and updating as part of the agency transaction. If applicants indicate eligibility and do not decline, their information is shared with election officials for registration and updating.

These questions can add time to an already lengthy transaction, increasing lines at state agencies. In addition, by placing the opportunity to decline registration within the transaction, Partial AVR systems lead a large share of eligible people to decline registration and updating. Research shows that many eligible people decline under these systems because they are in a rush to complete the transaction, because they incorrectly believe they are already registered to vote or that their registration is current, or because they are unsure of their eligibility (a particular problem with young voters and people with past felony convictions). It is common for Partial AVR systems to only register 40-60% of eligible people.

Partial AVR systems can also increase the risk of erroneous registrations by non-citizens if not carefully designed. Unlike Secure AVR systems, Partial AVR systems do not automatically filter out people who provide proof of non-citizenship as part of an agency transaction. In states without these filters, all applicants are placed in the AVR workflow, regardless of the documents they present and any known citizenship or non-citizenship status. These systems put the burden on non-citizens to affirmatively indicate ineligibility and opt-out of registration.

Where is AVR available?

Department of Motor Vehicles

A state’s Department of Motor Vehicles is the clear primary agency for AVR. DMVs typically reach 90% or more of a state’s eligible voting population, while collecting and verifying all of the information needed for voter registration (including proof of U.S. citizenship) as part of driver’s license applications. DMVs are also required by federal law to offer voter registration opportunities as part of license application. AVR builds on this federal requirement, using a streamlined system to register eligible applicants and keep voter rolls current and accurate.


State Medicaid offices are an ideal secondary agency for AVR. Medicaid offices can reach the population not served by the DMV, and ensure that low-income voters are registered with current and accurate information. The populations served by Medicaid – people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income people – have been historically excluded from voting, and Medicaid AVR can help ensure that these communities are added to the rolls.

Medicaid also verifies citizenship status for applicants, permitting a streamlined AVR pathway for clearly eligible people, while effectively filtering out non-citizens. Like DMVs, Medicaid offices are also required to offer voter registration opportunities, allowing AVR to build on federal requirements.

Other Agencies

States have also authorized AVR at additional agencies with the goal of expanding voter registration opportunities.