I. In Focus This Week
Impact data shows who votes with automatic voter registration
Automatic Voter Registration is a necessary, common sense reform whose time has come. Since Oregon adopted it in 2015 and implemented it in 2016 several other states have moved to modernize their systems with automatic voter registration (AVR).
AVR strengthens democracy by expanding the electorate. AVR’s streamlined systems can save states and localities significant costs, make the voter registration lists more accurate and up to date, and increase the security of the voting system. AVR is the next logical step in creating an efficient, secure, and modern voter registration system for the 21st century.
Oregon provides strong evidence in favor of automatic voter registration. We recently released a new report from the Center for American Progress providing a demographic and geographic portrait of how Oregon’s Automatic Voter Registration system has worked to register hundreds of thousands of eligible citizens to vote. This is the first time the question is being answered about which populations actually used AVR and if the program is working to expand the electorate. The answer is a resounding yes.
How it works
What is so special about AVR? AVR transforms the voter registration paradigm. Traditionally the voter registration process has put the full burden on the individual to get themselves registered to vote and keep their registration updated every time they move if they wanted to be able to cast a vote and have their voices heard.
Under Oregon’s AVR system, eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote through records collected by the Office of Motor Vehicles. All the information necessary to determine voting eligibility for general elections is already required by the agency in its applications for driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, and identification cards.
The AVR Effect
In less than a year, AVR registered over 270,000 new registrations, and more than 98,000 of them voted in the 2016 election. We also wanted to know how many of those 270,000 are people who probably wouldn’t have registered themselves. Using a number of data points, we estimated that about 116,000 people were registered who were unlikely to have registered themselves. Of those, over 40,000 voted. By election day, OMV registrants made up 8.7 percent of people registered to vote and constituted 4.7 percent of all voters in Oregon.
Oregon’s electorate is now more representative of the state’s population since citizens registered through OMV are younger, more rural, lower-income, and more ethnically diverse. For example, 40 percent of AVR registrants were 18-29 years old compared to just 18 percent of those registered through traditional means; 18-29 year olds make up 20 percent of Oregon’s population. Compared with traditional registrants and voters, AVR registrants and voters were more likely to live in: areas that are suburban; in low- and middle-income areas, in lower-education areas, and in racially diverse areas.
While turnout was up across the country in the 2016 election cycle, Oregon experienced the largest surge of any state—a 4.1 point increase compared with 2012. It is reasonable to say that AVR played a large part in that increase.
Several states have adopted AVR programs since Oregon and are on their way to implementation, including California; Alaskans adopted AVR last year at the ballot box. Just last month there was a unanimous, bi-partisan support in both houses in Illinois to adopt AVR, and the bill awaits the governor’s signature. In Rhode Island the AVR bill recently passed the House unanimously. Federal AVR legislation has also been introduced.
Evidence shows that AVR broadens the electorate and increases voter participation while leading to a more efficient, streamlined, and secure voter registration system. Americans deserve the convenience of automatic voter registration without delay.
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