Modernizing Voter Registration

Comparative Voter Registration: Lessons from Abroad for Improving Access and Accuracy in the United States

This report looks at what best practices from a sample of peer nations that states (or the federal government) should consider adopting, including greater centralization, improved data sharing operations, regularized and timely voter contact, and the selective targeting of unregistered populations.

March 15, 2024
Joshua S. Sellers
University of Texas School of Law

Voting is a multilayered process. Those desiring to vote must first be deemed qualified under the requisite laws; they must fall within the category of those who can in theory participate in an election. Voter qualification requirements commonly include proof of citizenship, age, and residency in the jurisdiction hosting the election. Those who are qualified must then register to vote. Voter registration, the topic of this report, is perhaps the most fundamentally important aspect of the voting process. It requires compliance with the rules and regulations governing voter registration in one’s home state (or locality). Many potential voters find such compliance challenging.2 Consequently, many qualified voters never become registered voters. Simply put, while even registered voters routinely encounter challenges to the casting of their votes3, voter registration remains of principal concern.4

Voter registration processes in the United States differ from those of its international peers in two important respects. First, as indicated above, registration processes vary from state to state. Accordingly, “[n]o national registration system exists, and there are no uniform administrative practices across the states.”5 Two federal laws, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993,6 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002,7 do include some federal requirements pertaining to voter registration, but these laws merely supplement state authority, and experts question their effectiveness. In short, voter registration in the United States is highly decentralized.8 Second, the United States, uniquely among its peers, places the burden of registering on individuals; potential voters must, with some exceptions, affirmatively “opt-in.”9 And unlike in many countries, government officials make minimal efforts to engage the unregistered. These two features –decentralization and the placement of the registration burden on individuals – complicate reform efforts, impede data collection, and in the eyes of many, render voter registration in the United States democratically deficient.

How, then, to design an improved system? As detailed throughout this report, valuable lessons can be drawn from both foreign and domestic practices. Several countries, including Germany, Australia, and Canada, enjoy voter registration rates exceeding 90 percent of eligible voters, while the United States, in the last presidential election, registered only 73 percent of eligible voters.10 At the same time, state-level innovations such as Election Day registration, online voter registration, and novel forms of automatic voter registration are proving fruitful. While preliminary research on the effects of these so-called convenience measures is mixed,11 there is growing evidence that policy design plays a significant role in effectiveness, and continued evaluation of how to successfully implement these measures is imperative.

This report first provides a general summary of voter registration in the United States. It then outlines best practices from a sample of peer nations that states (or the federal government) should consider adopting, including greater centralization, improved data sharing operations, regularized and timely voter contact, and the selective targeting of unregistered populations. The report concludes with a brief look at the current domestic reform landscape.

I. Voter Registration in the United States

In the United States, voter registration laws first appeared in the early 1800s, proliferating only after the Civil War.12 As is true for many election reforms throughout history, the initial impetus for the laws was both administrative and partisan. Administratively, the growth of cities and increased levels of immigration required the creation of methods to track who was eligible to vote. The prior system, in which “voters simply showed up at the polls with whatever documents (or witnesses) that they might need to establish their eligibility,”13 was, outside of rural states, growing obsolete. That said, the debate over voter registration laws was intimately bound up with politics. “In numerous states during the antebellum period,” Alexander Keyssar observes, “controversial proposals for registration laws were denounced as attempts to hurt the Democratic Party while infringing upon the rights of immigrants and the less well-off.”14 Enactment of such laws was therefore seen a form of partisan gamesmanship. As noted by Joshua Douglas, “the political parties [of the era] often sought to inflate the voter rolls by handing the precinct officers a list of supposedly qualified voters or turning in registration papers for select voters who would support the party’s candidates.”15

Over time, the combination of administrative professionalism, government transparency, and litigation (or its prospect), eliminated the most egregious voter registration-related abuses. Still, states’ competing approaches to voter registration, and perhaps more controversially, voter list maintenance, introduced new governance concerns. Consider, first, some of the variation that exists across states, followed by the important though limited obligations imposed by the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act.

State Variation

Every state except North Dakota requires voters to register. Specific processes, however, vary from state to state. Potential voters are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the rules and regulations in their home states. Some of the most notable differences across states concern (1) registration methods, and (2) registration deadlines.

1. Methods

States’ voter registration methods are varied. Some methods are mandated by federal law (see below), while others are optional. Voter registration methods are non-exclusive; all states offer multiple methods. Four general methods are commonplace.

Registration by mail is one of the methods mandated by federal law. While still an important registration method for a subset of voters, the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) indicates that only 10-12 percent of recent registrants utilized this method.16 By contrast, online voter registration continues to grow in popularity and is now the second most common registration method.17 The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that forty-two states, the District of Columbia, and Guam now offer online registration.18 According to some projections, the availability of online registration would significantly increase voter turnout.19 And its adoption has resulted in significant cost savings.20

Voter registration at polling places and voting centers is another common method. The utilization rates of this method are fairly low – approximately 6-8 percent of total registrations21 – though, again, for a subset of potential voters, the ability to register at the polls is essential. In addition, and perhaps even more crucially, is the ability to verify and/or update voters’ registration information when discrepancies arise.22

Voter registration at motor vehicle offices is by far the most common registration method. In 2022, 55 percent of registrations occurred at motor vehicle offices.23 While federal law requires states to process voter registration forms at these offices, at present, thirty-seven states reported to the EAC that they supplement this method by providing some form of so-called automatic voter registration (AVR).24 Though the precise details differ across states, as a general matter, under AVR systems “(1) eligible citizens who interact with motor vehicle licensing agencies are automatically registered to vote, or have their registration information updated unless they affirmatively decline or opt out; and (2) these offices transfer voter registration data electronically to the appropriate office.”25 Oregon, the first state to adopt AVR, is often cited as a model for how to implement an effective AVR system.26 Part III of this report contains more details on current AVR reforms.

2. Deadlines

Voter registration deadlines are similarly diverse.27 According to the NCSL, fifteen states and the Virgin Islands require voters to register between 28 and 30 days before an election,28 eight states impose a deadline of 20 to 27 days,29 seven states have a deadline falling between 1 and 15 days,30 and nineteen states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia permit registration through Election Day.31 Notably, these deadlines exist alongside separate laws governing the availability and length of early voting periods. While some states allow for same-day voter registration, which permits registering and voting on the same day, in other states, voter registration deadlines predate the start of early voting periods. Louisiana, for example, has a 30-day voter registration deadline, yet its early voting period runs from 14 to 7 days prior to a scheduled election.

Federal Requirements

Federal law prescribes some voter registration baselines. While a handful of laws contain voter registration-related provisions,32 the two statutes of note are the National Voter Registration Act33 and the Help America Vote Act.34

1. National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)

The NVRA is the primary federal law pertaining to voter registration. Enacted in 1993, the law requires that voter registration services be provided at motor vehicle, disability services, Armed forces recruitment, and other state-designated offices.35 It further obligates states to (1) designate a chief election official to oversee NVRA compliance, (2) accept a federally-created voter registration form, and (3) adhere to certain procedures when both maintaining and removing individuals from voter registration lists.

By most accounts, the NVRA has been quite successful at increasing overall voter registration rates. Its secondary effects, however, are less clear. For all it has achieved, “the NVRA did not explicitly address many of the persistent problems citizens experience when trying to register, most notably having to meet a state’s voter registration deadline.”37 Furthermore, there is ample evidence suggesting that many states fail to comply with the law, particularly as it relates to registration services at non-motor vehicle agencies.38 The explanation for such persistent noncompliance is unclear. While some states may simply be recalcitrant, it is more likely the case that some combination of resource limitations, inadequate training, and the absence of oversight are to blame. The political scientists Kathleen Hale and Mitchell Brown have, for instance, analyzed the statewide coordination challenges accompanying NVRA compliance, and note that “questions have been raised about the capacity of election offices to administer the complex intergovernmental web of voter registration requirements created by the NVRA.”39

In addition, the NVRA’s provisions regarding voter registration list maintenance have proven controversial. The statute “does not prescribe a particular program for state voter registration list maintenance, but it does provide some guidelines for what states can and cannot do when removing voters from their lists.”40 Specifically, any updating of registration lists, including the removal of inactive voters, must be done in a “uniform, nondiscriminatory” manner. But that requirement has not precluded what many perceive to be aggressive, and often reckless, voter “purges.”41 The legality of these removals was at issue in a 2018 Supreme Court decision, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.42 The case involved Ohio’s practice of removing voters from the state’s voter registration list if they both fail to respond to a notice seeking confirmation of their address and fail to vote in four subsequent years. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, interpreted the text of the NVRA to permit Ohio’s practice, concluding that the Court has “no authority to second-guess Congress or to decide whether Ohio’s Supplemental Process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date.”43 Among critics, the Husted decision “sanctions the needless and routine purging from voting rolls of a potentially very large number of eligible and registered voters.”44 Others contend that the voter rolls are in desperate need of updating, as mandated by the NVRA, and that recent efforts to clean up the rolls are benign. Whatever the case, voter list maintenance is an important concern that is inextricable from voter registration.

2. Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)

Congress enacted HAVA in the wake of the presidential election of 2000, an election marred by a variety of election administration challenges. Among other things, HAVA requires states to “create a single, centralized, computerized statewide voter registration list to serve as the official voter registration list for federal elections.”45 This “voter registration database” is to be maintained by each state’s chief election officer, and requires coordination among state officials to verify and maintain voter information.46 In this regard, then, HAVA mandated a massive shift of authority from local governments to state governments. As put by Bertrall Ross and Doug Spencer, in “just over a decade, voter registration list maintenance was transferred from over 13,000 counties, cities, and towns to fifty states and the District of Columbia.”47 This shift has not been without difficulty.

As with the NVRA, coordinating the relevant entities and individuals is time-consuming and resource intensive.48 Technological advances have mitigated some of these challenges, though funding that is sufficient to meet ongoing needs remains scant.49 In addition, HAVA’s language regarding data matching fails to detail any governing standards.50

Overall, though, HAVA substantially improved voter registration practices, ushering in a modern, technologically driven approach that reformers can build upon.

II. Voter Registration Abroad: Peer Nation “Best Practices”

Observers have long compared voting and election practices across nations.51 In these comparisons, the United States routinely ranks below our peers.52 Regarding voter registration, the principal difference between the United States and peer nations enjoying strong reputations is the degree of responsibility assumed by the government. In high-registration nations, including Germany, Australia, and Canada, the government automatically registers eligible voters; as noted above, in the United States, individuals, for the most part, bear the burden of registering.

In addition, in many peer nations, the federal government plays a more hands-on role in overseeing elections, often through electoral management bodies that are afforded authority exceeding that of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the United States’ analogue. The combination of automatic voter registration and federal oversight in high-registration nations also has implications for voter list maintenance. Peer nations, predictably, have fewer voter list inaccuracies and controversies over the removal of voters from the rolls.

While some features of peer nations’ voter registration systems are unlikely to gain traction domestically, others are clearly transferable. Consider the following three examples.

Germany: Routine Data Updating and Voting Reminders

German voter registration is emblematic of nations that utilize civil registries. A civil registry is a system for recording detailed information on residents. Everyone resident in Germany must register their presence with municipal authorities. This residency data is then used to facilitate a wide range of government services, including the distribution of government funding, the opening of schools, and voter registration.53 Everyone who reaches the age of 18 before an election is automatically registered to vote.54 Accordingly, voter registration rates in Germany are exceptionally high.55 When comparing voter registration in Germany and the United States, two points bear emphasis.

First, consider the nations’ respective methods of building the voter rolls. When a German resident relocates, they are required to update their residency with the local authorities. Assuming this occurs at least forty-two days prior to the next election, they are automatically added to the “voters’ register” in their new location; no supplemental registration is necessary. By combining residency and voter registration, the German approach reduces the administrative burden on residents. In the United States, as previously noted, the most common method of registering to vote is through departments of motor vehicles and other benefits agencies. This approach is underinclusive insofar as it fails to ensure registration of those who do not obtain driver’s licenses – as many as 10-15 percent of the population by some measures. And, again, not all agencies consistently meet their voter registration obligations. Further, some eligible individuals decline the opportunity to register or update their registration at a motor vehicles office, either because the registration option is insufficiently streamlined, or because they are unaware of the need to do so.

Second, German election officials provide all registered voters with affirmative registration confirmation well in advance of an election. No later than twenty-one days before an election, German law requires municipal authorities to notify voters of, among other things, their eligibility, the operating hours of their polling place, and their voter registration number.56 This obligation mitigates, if not eliminates, the scenario, all too common in the United States, in which voters arrive at the polls on Election Day unsure of their registration status.

Australia: Centralization and Proactive Voter Registration

Australia is notable for taking an impressively proactive approach to voter registration, an approach reflective of the fact that both voter registration and participation in elections are compulsory. The results speak for themselves: the most recent official update reports a registration rate among eligible citizens of 97.8 percent.57 The various efforts undertaken to register voters in Australia are worth considering in detail.

For starters, federal elections in Australia are overseen by a central agency, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918, the legislation governing Australian elections, empowers the AEC to gather information from other government agencies, including state and local agencies, in order to establish and maintain a national voter roll. For example, the AEC receives information from State and Territory Driver’s License Authorities, the Australian Taxation Office, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Authorities, and the Departments of Education; that information is used to build the voter rolls.58 Newly added voters are then contacted by the AEC to confirm their placement on the roll. By comparison, election management in the United States is, again, highly decentralized. In the United States, the EAC primarily serves an informational role.

Most notable here are the additional methods used by the AEC to register voters. Though registration is mandatory for everyone 18 years of age or older, 16 and 17-year-olds can pre-enroll, and are then automatically enrolled upon their eighteenth birthday.59 Furthermore, as identified in a study undertaken by the Brennan Center for Justice, “election officials send birthday cards, with registration forms enclosed, to students turning either 17 or 18 years old.”60 The Brennan Center additionally reports that “personalized registration forms” are prepared for those obtaining Australian citizenship, some of which are distributed at citizenship ceremonies61 In fact, the Australian Department of Home Affairs’ website notes that participants in citizenship ceremonies are given a QR code at the ceremony to register to vote online.62

Australia’s commitment to voter registration is perhaps best exemplified by the steps the AEC has taken to register Indigenous Australians. Fifteen years ago, in a submission by the AEC to an Australian parliamentary committee, the AEC outlined a series of targeted strategies: media buys in Indigenous outlets (and in Indigenous languages), Indigenous staff hiring, and face-to-face visits with Indigenous communities, many of which require extensive travel to remote areas.63 The efforts have proven successful, though the AEC continues to pilot new Indigenous-focused programs. As one example, in response to the fact that many Indigenous Australians lack identifying documentation needed to register, the AEC permits an enrolled voter to vouch for a prospective voter’s identity.64

These efforts stand in stark contrast to what is conventional in the United States. To be sure, election officials, political parties, and third parties all encourage Americans to register. But these efforts are far less systematic than in Australia, and generally rely on individual initiative. Though compulsory voter registration in the United States is politically infeasible, at least as a federal mandate, the proactive Australian approach nevertheless demonstrates the virtues of a nationally directed voter registration project.

Canada: Data Sharing and Institutional Knowledge

Canada utilizes some of the same voter registration methods as Germany and Australia and, like those nations, is highly effective at getting individuals registered. Like Germany, Canadian election officials proactively provide voter information cards to all registered voters approximately three weeks before an election.65 Like Australia, federal elections in Canada are overseen by a federal entity – Elections Canada. That agency “routinely collects data from 40 different government agencies”66 to keep its voter rolls up-to-date, and, again, in resemblance of the Australian approach, pursues targeted voter registration strategies to engage unregistered individuals.67

Canadian election authorities have been credited for their sophisticated use of data sharing for both voter registration and voter list maintenance purposes. The Brennan Center offers an illustrative example:

If a Canadian citizen moves from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and applies for a driver’s license there, she can check a box that will allow the New Brunswick Department of Public Safety to share her name, sex, birth date and address with other agencies. If she checks a similar box on her federal income tax return or Canada Post Corporation change-of-address form, those agencies will also share her new address with federal election authorities. Without having to interact at all with the federal election agency, she will appear on the voter list at her new polling location during the next election.68

Such extensive data sharing relieves voters of all but the most minimal obligation to keep their information accurate. Given such efforts, it is unsurprising that at present just over 95 percent of eligible Canadian voters are registered.69

One additional feature of Canadian voter registration warrants mention. Like many countries, Canada utilizes district-based officers (often designated “returning officers”) to oversee regional or local elections. Registering new voters is one of their principal responsibilities.70 These individuals are appointed to these positions by the Chief Electoral Officer for 10-year terms, a strikingly long tenure. Because appointment entails such a lengthy commitment, recruitment has suffered, leading Elections Canada to recommend shortening the term.71 The expectation of an extended commitment, however, indicates a national preference for stability in the positions; stability that fosters both individual and institutional knowledge. Voter registration needs, like all aspects of election administration, are unpredictable. In responding to this unpredictability, Canada, it seems, recognizes the benefits of expertise that only comes with time.72


This brief snapshot of voter registration practices in Germany, Australia, and Canada, offers several points of relevance for the United States. For one, it demonstrates the potential benefits of centralization. Both the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and Elections Canada serve a coordinating function that allows for the efficient distribution of resources.73 In building national voter registries, election officials in these institutions learn where registrations are depressed, where advertisements might be most effective, and where additional staff might be useful. The Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency charged with improving election administration in the United States, has comparatively less authority, and is hindered by perennial questions about its mandate.74 While individual state governments play a similar coordinating role – recall the Help America Vote Act’s requirement that states create computerized, statewide, voter registration lists – thus far, the development and maintenance of accurate lists has proven challenging, in part due to the frequency with which Americans move.75

Relatedly, looking abroad highlights how the inadequacy of data sharing operations stifles voter registration in the United States. While the National Voter Registration Act mandates that states provide voter registration forms at motor vehicle, disability services, Armed forces recruitment, and other state-designated offices, and that completed registration forms be delivered to the appropriate state election official,76 these practices fall short of the comprehensive data sharing operations in Australia and Canada. The AEC processes millions of voter registration transactions each year, a feat only made possible by its reliance on a wide range of data sources (e.g., the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Home Affairs) to update and affirm the accuracy of its records. Elections Canada, as noted above, processes data from dozens of agencies that aid in voter registration. In short, voter registration numbers in the United States could likely be substantially increased by enlisting more government entities in the task of getting people registered, and increasing the automated transmission of registration information to state election officials.77

Routine confirmation of voters’ registration status, especially in the lead-up to an election – as observed in Germany and Canada – is a simple means of mitigating voter confusion. Many voters in the United States arrive at their polling place only to discover some problem with their registration. Perhaps a voter’s signature does not match the one on file, or an address discrepancy exists due to a move. In these circumstances, voters are typically permitted to cast a provisional ballot. The process for managing provisional ballots varies from state to state, but in general, a provisional ballot will eventually be counted if a voter’s registration can be confirmed.78 There are, though, ongoing issues with the treatment of provisional ballots, sometimes resulting in lost votes.79 Pre-election registration confirmation would reduce the number of voters confronting these types of scenarios. Confirmation also serves the laudatory purpose of simply reminding voters of an upcoming election, thereby encouraging turnout. This is particularly important in less salient elections for which turnout tends to lag.

Finally, the selective targeting of unregistered populations, a common strategy in Australia and Canada, should inform efforts to increase registration in the United States. Disparities in voter registration and participation rates are most stark between higher and lower-income individuals. As summarized by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is an urgent “need for advocates, direct service providers, tenant organizers, housing providers, and other organizations that work with low-income renters to register voters and get out the vote in their communities.”80 When a concerted effort is made to register low-income individuals, registration rates improve. California, for example, saw an impressive spike in voter registration rates among low-income individuals during Election 2020 after a diverse collection of organizations – political parties, advocacy groups, and community coalitions – focused on voter outreach.81 Yet these anecdotes illuminate the fundamental problem: in the United States, voter registration success stories typically involve non-governmental organizations. The selective targeting employed in Australia and Canada exploits those governments’ superior information about where registration needs are greatest. Annual funding from Congress and state governments should be directed to election officials for the specific purpose of increasing voter registration rates among eligible citizens.82

III. The Current Reform Landscape in the United States

Though there is much to be learned from looking abroad, there is substantial innovation and experimentation right here in the United States. The most promising developments involve different varieties of automatic voter registration (AVR). Recent research suggests that relatively modest changes to AVR systems may meaningfully impact voter registration rates and greatly improve the accuracy of existing registration records. AVR systems are also being expanded to encompass new demographics. As a noteworthy example, the State of Michigan recently passed a law requiring the state to register all people exiting prison.83 Other significant developments involve online voter registration and voter list maintenance programs.

>Automatic Voter Registration

AVR systems permit automatic voter registration when interacting with designated state agencies. At present, 37 states report using some form of AVR.84 The differences in how AVR systems are designed are seemingly quite significant, however. The latest data identifies the most common types of AVR as “processes where the option to register to vote is preselected and a person needs to deselect it during the transaction to opt out of registering to vote (39.3%) and those that authorize the potential registrant to opt in or choose to register, such as when an individual cannot proceed with a transaction without selecting whether or not they wish to be registered to vote (35.7%).”85

A less common approach – a so-called “back-end” or “Secure AVR” approach – automatically registers clearly eligible individuals during a government transaction, and then contacts them later (through a mailer, for instance), with an opportunity to opt out of registration. Similarly, under this approach, those already registered to vote have their information automatically updated during a transaction, and, are later sent a mailer with an opportunity to reject the update. This approach is now standard in Oregon and Colorado, and has been adopted in eight other states and the District of Columbia.

Though the distinction between these two approaches may seem insignificant, evidence suggests it is quite meaningful. One study finds that Secure AVR systems outperform rival approaches in registering new voters.86 A second study, comparing voter registration rates in Colorado prior and subsequent to its adoption of a Secure AVR system, found the system to be highly effective as compared to a standard AVR system: “The main finding of this study is that when voter registration became the clear default option for a large number of Colorado DMV patrons, very few of them subsequently opted out, which resulted in a sudden, large increase in the rate at which DMV patrons registered to vote in the course of conducting DMV transactions.”87 The continued expansion of Secure AVR allows for further research, however, these preliminary results should encourage other states to consider modifying their AVR systems.

Another innovation regarding AVR, thus far unique to Michigan, involves expanding it to those exiting prison. Under the terms of the newly enacted law (which takes effect in 2025), the “secretary of state and the department of corrections shall coordinate to ensure that eligible individuals are automatically registered to vote, with the opportunity to decline the voter registration, on release from incarceration imposed as a sentence for a crime.”88 Notably, the expansion is designed as an opt-out system – registrants are sent a mailer asking if they wish to be removed from the rolls.89

States should consider these and additional experiments to ascertain how automatic voter registration can most effectively increase registration rates among their citizens.

Online Voter Registration

Most states currently permit at least some form of online voter registration.90This option has produced modest increases in registration rates, and has also proven to be economical.91 Seven states, though, including Texas, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, have resisted the trend, frustrating reformers. And even in some states, such as Florida, that permit online voter registration, state officials have required some applicants to submit physical copies of their applications by mail—copies that contain the applicants’ “wet” (i.e., signed with a pen) signatures. Such requirements undermine the efficiency of online voter registration.

Among those seeking to expand and improve online voter registration is the nonprofit organization, the creator of a web application that provides easy online registration. In the states that disallow online voter registration, the app is unusable; in the states requiring all or some voters to submit wet signatures, the benefits of the app are limited. The most notable recent development on this front is’s decision to file lawsuits in Texas and Florida challenging the legality of those states’ wet signature policies.92 At the time of this writing, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees the State of Texas, upheld the state’s wet signature law, and litigation over Florida’s law continues.93 The ultimate outcome of these and related cases will determine whether the availability of online voter registration will expand and, where available, prove effective for all voters.

Voter List Maintenance Programs

As noted above, voter list maintenance is of crucial importance to voter registration. The National Voter Registration Act, while containing some content pertaining to list maintenance,94 leaves significant discretion to states. For several reasons, mostly deriving from the absence of reliable information, states struggle to maintain accurate lists. On the one hand, resources do exist to keep information up to date. “The Social Security Administration (SSA), the [United States Postal Service], and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),” as Hale and Brown note, “all serve as sources of data that state election officials and [local election officials] can access to verify voter registration status.”95 And fresh information is constantly being shared by individuals, state agencies, and third parties engaged in registering voters, through both AVR and less systematic methods. Yet the “interoffice cooperation that election officials must initiate and sustain”96 to maintain accurate lists is daunting. Because of this, a majority of states have relied in recent years on private programs to aid with list maintenance.

The most impactful of these programs is the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC).97 Started in 2012, ERIC uses data-matching software to “provide[] its members with reports that identify inaccurate or out-of-date voter registration records, deceased voters, individuals who appear to be eligible to vote but who are not yet registered, and possible cases of illegal voting.”98 Writing in 2020, Hale and Brown could rightfully interpret the fact that thirty states were participating in ERIC as evidence of its “perceived quality among election administrators.”99 That perception has regrettably changed in recent years, leading several states – nine at the time of this report’s release – to withdraw from ERIC.100 This development augurs continued challenges for states as they attempt to produce the most accurate voter registration lists. Fortunately, the increased adoption and ongoing improvement of AVR systems has aided in keeping voter rolls accurate.101

IV. Conclusion

Voter registration is a monumentally important, yet often overlooked, aspect of the voting process. The ability of individuals to easily register to vote is a prerequisite to democratic government. Despite recent innovations, the United States has substantial room to improve its voter registration systems. As this report has documented, several successful practices from abroad can be sensibly adopted at either the federal or state level. Voter registration reformers should work to implement these practices where appropriate, in pursuit of improved access and accuracy in the United States.

1* Professor of Law, University of Texas School of Law.
2 Holly Ann Garnett, Registration Innovation: The Impact of Online Registration and Automatic Voter Registration in the United States, 21 ELEC. L.J. 34, 35–36 (2022) (“The registration process can be time consuming and requires knowledge of the appropriate offices to contact, the documents necessary to prove identification or residence, and the deadlines by which one must register in order to be eligible to vote.”).
3 See Joshua S. Sellers & Justin Weinstein-Tull, Constructing the Right to Vote, 96 N.Y.U. L. REV. 1127, 1147–57 (2021) (documenting challenges in the context of elections in the United States).
4 See Barry C. Burden, Registration and Voting: A View from the Top, in THE MEASURE OF AMERICAN ELECTIONS 40, 56–57 (Barry C. Burden & Charles Stewart III eds. 2014) [hereinafter THE MEASURE] (“While some of the variation in turnout rates can be explained with election laws, competitiveness, and to a lesser degree demographics, it seems that much of turnout is attributable to factors that are established before the voting period opens, especially at the prior step of voter registration.”); Bertrall L. Ross II & Douglas M. Spencer, Passive Voter Suppression: Campaign Mobilization and the Effective Disfranchisement of the Poor, 114 NW. U. L. REV. 633, 686 (2019) (“Voter registration is a serious barrier for many individuals, and the burden of registering to vote falls disproportionately on the poor.”).
6 52 U.S.C. §§ 20501-20511.
7 52 U.S.C. §§ 20901-21145.
8 Stephen Ansolabehere & Eitan Hersh, Voter Registration, The Process and Quality of Lists, in THE MEASURE, supra note 3, at 61, 61 (“In many ways U.S. voter registration is a remarkable system. A highly decentralized set of authorities consisting of more than 5,000 municipal and county election officials collaborate on state and local voter databases.”).
9 For an illuminating history of third-party organizations that have helped voters register, see Joshua A. Douglas, A History of Third-Party Voter Registration Drives, INST. FOR RESPONSIVE GOV’T (May 17, 2023),
10 U.S. Census Bureau, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2020 (Apr. 2021),
11 Compare Garnett, supra note 1, at 40–41 (finding no statistically significant relationship between the availability of online and automatic voter registration and the likelihood of registering) and Burden, supra note 3, at 58 (suggesting that “one-stop registration procedures do not so much increase overall registration rates as they do increase turnout among the registered”) with Justin Grimmer & Jonathan Rodden, Changing the Default: The Impact of Motor-Voter Reform in Colorado (Jan. 2022) (unpublished manuscript) (finding a large increase in voter registrations among Colorado’s DMV patrons due to automatic voter registration) and Liz Kennedy, Oregon’s Success Shows Way Forward for Automatic Voter Registration, CTR. AM. PROG. (May 16, 2016), available at (finding the same for Oregon’s DMV patrons).
12 Alexander Keyssar, Voter Registration: A Very Short History, INST. FOR RESPONSIVE GOV’T (Aug. 1, 2022),
13 Id.
14 Id.
15 Douglas, supra note 8.
16 Election Administration and Voting Survey 2022 Comprehensive Report 144–46 (Jun. 2023) [hereinafter EAVS 2022], available at
17 Id. (28.2% in 2020).
18 Online Voter Registration, NAT’L CONF. STATE LEGISLATURES, (Mar. 8, 2023),
19 Danielle Root & Liz Kennedy, Increasing Voter Participation in America: Policies to Drive Participation and Make Voting More Convenient, CTR. AM. PROG. 22–23 (Jul. 2018), available at
20 HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 85; Root & Kennedy, supra note 18, at 24.
21 EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 144–46.
22 See Thessalia Merivaki & Daniel A. Smith, Challenges in Voter Registration, in MITCHELL BROWN, KATHLEEN HALE & BRIDGETT KING, THE FUTURE OF ELECTION ADMINISTRATION 59, 72 (2020) (“[M]any eligible and registered voters often face challenges in casting a vote. Verifying voter information at the registration check-in may be time consuming if there is a high influx of voters showing up at the polls on Election Day, or if poll workers have trouble verifying voters’ information.”).
23 EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 144–46.
24 Id. at 149.
25 HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 90.
26 See, e.g., Root & Kennedy, supra note 18, at 15–19.
27 See Sellers & Weinstein-Tull, supra note 2, at 1143 (“While states are not entirely unbounded, the latitude and significant discretion they are afforded over voter registration demonstrates the way in which the right to vote is unmoored from a settled baseline.”).
28 Voter Registration Deadlines, NAT’L CONF. STATE LEGISLATURES, (Dec. 11, 2023), (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the Virgin Islands).
29 Id. (Delaware, Kansas, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and West Virginia).
30 Id. (Alabama, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota).
31 Id. (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Puerto Rico). The situation is slightly different in North Carolina, which permits voters to simultaneously register and vote during the early voting period provided in the state, while prohibiting registration on Election Day itself. Id. A similar change is the subject of litigation in Montana, where a law to allow same-day registration only during the early voting period, and not on Election Day, has been stayed pending final disposition of a legal challenge. Id; Alex Sakariassen, Election-Day Voter Registration Back on as Montana Supreme Court Reverses Preliminary Injunction, MONT. FREE PRESS (Sep. 21, 2022),
32 The Voting Rights Act of 1965, 52 U.S.C. § 10301-10314; The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, 52 U.S.C. §§ 20101-20107; The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986, 52 U.S.C. §§ 20301-20311.
33 52 U.S.C. §§ 20501-20511.
34 52 U.S.C. §§ 20901-21145.
35 Department of Justice, The National Voter Registration Act of 1993,, Congressional Research Service, Voter Registration: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress 3–4 (Sep. 19, 2022) [hereinafter Recent Developments], available at; Sellers & Weinstein-Tull, supra note 2, at 1143–44.
36 See, e.g., HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 77 (“[I]ncreased registration has not translated into an increase in voter turnout or to greater rates of participation among lower socioeconomic groups. There is some evidence that registration has increased in some groups that are less likely to register.”).
37 Merivaki & Smith, supra note 21, at 62.
38 See, e.g., Justin Weinstein-Tull, Election Law Federalism, 114 MICH. L. REV. 747, 759–60 (2016) (discussing NVRA noncompliance); Root & Kennedy, supra note 18, at 24 (same).
39 HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 77.
40 Congressional Research Service, Recent Developments, supra note 34, at 12.
41 See, e.g., Thomas Wheatley, Secretary of State Set to Trim Georgia Voter Rolls Ahead of 2024, AXIOS ATLANTA (Jul. 20, 2023),
42 584 U.S. 756 (2018).
43 Id. at 779.
44 Lisa Marshall Manheim & Elizabeth G. Porter, The Elephant in the Room: Intentional Voter Suppression, 2018 SUP. CT. REV. 213, 213–14 (2018).
45 Congressional Research Service, Voter Registration; Overview of Federal Involvement and Policy Considerations 2 (Oct. 21, 2022), available at
46 Congressional Research Service, Recent Developments, supra note 34, at 5.
47 Ross II & Spencer, supra note 3, at 690.
48 For a summary of current practices, see EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 59–62.
49 See HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 76 (“Systems used to track voter registration data have been modernized over the past fifteen years to comply with HAVA mandates and through technological advances generally; however, conversion to electronic systems has ushered in new issues.”); Grace Gordon & Rachel Orey, Bipartisan Policy Center, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform 8 (Jan. 20, 2022), available at (suggesting increased federal funding for the purpose of advancing “security and access in voter registration”).
50 Congressional Research Service, The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA): Overview and Ongoing Role in Election Administration Policy, 17 (May 8, 2023), available at; Orion de Nevers, What Happened to HAVA? The Help America Vote Act Twenty Years on and Lessons for the Future, 110 GEO. L.J. ONLINE 168, 181–83 (2021).
51 See generally HAROLD F. GOSNELL, WHY EUROPE VOTES (1930).
52 See, e.g., Michael Latner & Gretchen Goldman, Fighting Corruption, Promoting Evidence: Reforms to Strengthen Democracy for the Common Good, CENTER FOR SCI. & DEMOCRACY (Apr. 2019),
53 See Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, Registration,,the%20person%20providing%20the%20residence.
54 See Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, How Bundestag Elections Work, (“The municipality automatically enters all eligible voters in the electoral register of their constituency if they have registered their address with the responsible registration authority in Germany at least 42 days before the election.”).
55 That said, roughly 1/4 of registered voters have chosen not to participate in recent German elections, a figure causing some consternation. See Drew DeSilver, Turnout in U.S. Has Soared in Recent Elections But By Some Measures Still Trains That of Many Other Countries, Pew Research Center (Nov. 1, 2022),; Volker Witting, What’s Behind the Low Voter Turnout in Germany?, DW (May 25, 2022),
56 See Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, How Bundestag Elections Work,
57 Australian Electoral Commission, Enrolment Statistics,
58 Australian Electoral Commission, Managing the Commonwealth Electoral Roll,
59 Australian Electoral Commission, A Guide to Enrolling and Voting,; Jennifer S. Rosenberg & Margaret Chen, Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World, BRENNAN CTR. FOR JUST. 11 (2009), available at
60 Rosenberg & Chen, supra note 58, at 11. Nearly all U.S. states have adopted similar programs. EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 63–64.
61 Rosenberg & Chen, supra note 58, at 12.
62 Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, Citizenship Ceremony,,AEC%20to%20request%20a%20form.
63 Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) into the 2007 Federal Election 54–55 (Jun. 20, 2008), available at file:///C:/Users/js225632/Downloads/
64 Press Release, Australian Electoral Commission, Vote Loud. Vote Proud. AEC Launches First Nations Enrolment Drive (Nov. 28, 2022),
65 Elections Canada, Facts About Voter ID and the Voter Information Card,
66 Rosenberg & Chen, supra note 58, at 10.
67 See Eve Robert, Voter Registration: An International Perspective, Fair Vote Research Report 5 (Jun. 29, 2009), available at (reporting that “Elections Canada sometimes conducts door-to-door registration campaigns in selected neighborhoods, such as new subdivisions, student residences, or areas with highly mobile residents. The target areas . . . are identified through an analysis of the National Register of Electors to compile a list of residents who have moved frequently in the past”).
68 Rosenberg & Chen, supra note 58, at 16–17.
69 Elections Canada, Description of the National Register of Electors,
70 See, e.g., Rosenberg & Chen, supra note 58, at 42.
71 Elections Canada, Sound Electoral Management,
72 The increased turnover of election administrators in the United States is concerning for many reasons, including the resulting loss of expertise. See Michael Wines, For Election Workers, Fentanyl-Laced Letters Signal a Challenging Year, N.Y. TIMES (Nov. 22, 2023), threats.html.
73 In Germany, electoral supervisory authority is assigned to the Federal Returning Officer, though with one exception, the Officer’s duties do not involve voter registration. The Federal Returning Officer, The Federal Returning Officer and Her Responsibilities, (describing how the Federal Returning Officer reviews the voter registration applications of Germans living abroad).
74 See Congressional Research Service, The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC): Overview and Selected Issues for Congress (Feb. 23, 2023),
75 HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 81–85.
76 Congressional Research Service, Recent Developments, supra note 34, at 2–3; Congressional Research Service, Federal Role in Voter Registration: The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and Subsequent Developments 4–5 (May 11, 2022), available at
77 See EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 61–62.
78 MIT Election Data Science Lab, Provisional Ballots,
79 See, e.g., Edward B. Foley, The Promise and Problems of Provisional Voting, 73 GEO. WASH. L. REV. 1193, 1195–96 (2005); EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 16–18.
80 Memorandum, National Low Income Housing Coalition, New Census Data Reveal Vote Turnout Disparities in 2022 Midterm Elections (May 15, 2023),
81 Phillip Reese & Lewis Griswold, Poor and Diverse Voters Fuel California’s Record Ballots Cast, CAL MATTERS (Dec. 10, 2020),
82 For a complementary argument, see Gordon & Orey, supra note 48. See also Richard L. Hasen, Beyond the Margin of Litigation: Reforming U.S. Election Administration to Avoid Electoral Meltdown, 62 WASH. & LEE L. REV. 937, 969 (2005) (“The federal government—perhaps the Department of the Census—should undertake the universal registration of eligible voters.”).
83 Alex Burness, Michigan Law Is First to Automatically Register People to Vote as They Leave Prison, BOLTS (Nov. 17, 2023),
84 EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 149.
85 Id. at 63.
86 Eric McGhee, Charlotte Hill & Mindy Romero, The Registration and Turnout Effects of Automatic Registration (unpublished manuscript). See also Danielle Root, The Case for Back-End Opt-Out Automatic Voter Registration, CTR. FOR AM. PROG. (May 28, 2019), available at
87 Grimmer & Rodden, supra note 10.
88 2023 Mich. Pub. Acts 4,
89 Burness, supra note 82.
90 EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 65 (“About three-quarters of states reported that through this system, voters can both register to vote and update their registration, whereas a smaller number of states (5.4%) reported that individuals can only use this online system to update their registration.”). In a promising development, fourteen states have taken the additional step of allowing even those who lack a state issued identification to register to vote online. See INST. FOR RESPONSIVE GOV’T (Feb. 6, 2023), (providing background).
91 Garnett, supra note 1, at 42–43; HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 85.
92 See, e.g., Neil Vigdor, Florida Faces Federal Lawsuit Over Signature Rules for New Voters, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 16, 2023),
93 v. Callanen, 89 F.4th 459 (5th Cir. 2023); Rachel Selzer, Dismissal of Federal Lawsuit Over Florida’s Ink Signature Rule, DEMOCRACY DOCKET (Nov. 9, 2023),
94 EAVS 2022, supra note 15, at 156–58.
95 HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 91.
96 Id. at 81.
97 For a detailed overview of ERIC, see Michael Morse, Democracy’s Bureaucracy: The Complicated Case of Voter Registration Lists, 103 B.U. L. REV. 2123, 2151–62 (2023).
98 Electronic Registration Information Center,
99 HALE & BROWN, supra note 4, at 96.
100 Miles Parks, Republican States Swore Off a Voting Tool. Now They’re Scrambling to Recreate It, NPR (Oct. 20, 2023), See also Neil Vigdor, G.O.P. States Abandon Bipartisan Voting Integrity Group, Yielding to Conspiracy Theories, N.Y. TIMES (Mar. 7, 2023),
101 Grimmer & Rodden, supra note 10.