IRG Analysis of Report | Using Individual Income Tax Data In Automatic Voter Registration Systems
September 7, 2022
- A recent report from Vanessa Williamson, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, assesses options for using state income tax data for voter registration or updating existing voter registration records.
- Using tax records to update existing voter registration records can improve the accuracy of state voter registration records, while reducing the burden on individuals to file these updates separately through additional forms.
- Providing a voter registration option as part of the tax filing process also creates a streamlined process for new registrants to join the rolls through a standard government interaction, similar to how voter registration is offered at the DMV or Medicaid offices.
- The report analyzes how much of the information needed for voter registration or updating of registration records is already collected by a state’s income tax forms in the 40 states with both state income taxes and a voter registration requirement.
Many states’ income tax forms already collect almost all of the information needed to update existing registration records with a new name or address. With minor changes to the tax form, tax data can be used to update registration records.
- To update registration records, the tax form must collect sufficient information to allow election officials to match the filer to an existing voter registration record. The form must also collect the person’s current name or residential address information in order to allow election officials to update the registration record.
- In order to match records, states can rely on collection of a filer’s name, date or birth, and either or both of the person’s driver’s license number and social security number. Several states’ income tax forms already collect all or some of this information, and the states best prepared to implement tax updates generally collect all of this information.
- While most states’ tax forms only collect the filer’s mailing address, several also collect a filer’s residential address information as of the end of the tax year. States could slightly modify their tax forms to allow filers to indicate their current residential address, allowing this data to be used to update voter registration records.
- Twenty-three states’ income tax forms already collect most of the data they would need to update registration records, and eight states collect nearly all of the required information. The states most ready to implement tax-time voter registration updates are Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and Virginia.
Registering New Voters
For new registrants, states can adopt a “Schedule VR”, offering filers a streamlined option to provide the information needed for voter registration.
- In addition to providing demographic information, anyone newly registering to vote must attest to their eligibility for voter registration, including citizenship and non-disqualification due to felony conviction or mental incompetence (depending on the state).
- While no state’s income tax form currently includes this information, states interested in allowing new registrations through tax filings could implement a “Schedule VR,” an optional additional tax form that collects the necessary attestations and any additional information needed for voter registration.
- If a person completes a Schedule VR with the necessary attestations, the person’s voter registration data could be shared with election officials to add the person to the rolls.
- Voters completing a Schedule VR should also have a way to provide a signature for purposes of voter registration, as tax filing generally allows a typed signature.
A system of tax-time registration or updating must also consider how the tax season interacts with the electoral calendar, and whether updates and new registrations can be added in a timely fashion before the state’s primary election.
- In non-presidential election years, many states hold their federal primaries late enough for voters to be able to register during tax season. However, Presidential primaries would generally be held in advance of the tax filing deadline.
- States must also be able to share information between their fiscal agency and election officials in a timely fashion to allow prompt processing of registrations and updates. In general, where tax filing occurs electronically, states process forms very efficiently, suggesting that electronic filings may be best suited for prompt sharing of information.
Implementation of tax-time registration should be considered and designed with the full engagement of tax officials.
- Tax filers’ confidential data should be carefully protected in any system of interagency data sharing with election officials.
- Any tax registration system should ensure that additional data processing responsibilities are sufficiently funded and do not delay prompt and efficient processing of returns.