Voter registration is the requirement in some democracies for citizens and residents to check in with some central registry specifically for the purpose of being allowed to vote in elections. An effort to get people to register is known as a voter registration drive.
Centralized/compulsory vs. opt-in
In some countries, including most developed countries, registration is the responsibility of the government, either local or national; and in over 30 countries some form of compulsory voting is required as part of each citizen's civic duty. Even in many countries where the voting itself is not compulsory, registering one's place of residence with some government agency is required, which automatically constitutes voter registration for citizens, and in some cases residents, of the required age. In other countries, however, people eligible to vote must "opt in" to be permitted to participate in voting, generally by filling out a specific form registering them to vote. Governments registering people has been shown to be one of the most powerful predictors of high voting turnout levels.
Even in countries where registration is the individual's responsibility, many reformers, seeking to maximize voter turnout, have pushed for wider availability of the required forms; one such effort in the United States led to the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter Law") and similar laws, which required states to offer voter registration at Department of Motor Vehicles|motor vehicle departments (driver's license offices) as well as disability centers, public schools, and Public library|public libraries, and to accept mail-in voter registration.
Same-day voter registration or Election Day Registration
Same day registration is also known as Election Day Registration. Seven states in the US do not require advance registration, instead allowing voters to register when they arrive at the polls or, in the case of North Dakota, eliminating the registration step altogether. Five of these seven rank highest in the nation in voter turnout.
Effects and controversy
Laws requiring individual voters to register, as opposed to having the government register people automatically, have a strong correlation with lower numbers of people turning out to vote where voting is voluntary. This lower turnout is especially concentrated among low-income voters and young voters — i.e., those least likely to vote no matter what the registration requirements. Because of this, they are often controversial; some advocate for their abolition. Other groups, while not agreeing with this specific suggestion, argue that the laws should be reformed, for instance, allowing voters to register on the day of the election. This tactic, called Election Day Registration, has been adopted by several U.S. states: Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Under the United States Constitution, states may not restrict voting rights in ways that infringe one's right to equal protection under the law (Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution|Fifteenth Amendment), on the basis of race (Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution|Fifteenth Amendment), sex (Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution|Nineteenth Amendment), or age for persons age 18 and older (Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution|Twenty-Sixth Amendment).
While the federal government has jurisdiction over federal elections, most election laws are decided at the state level and the true authority to interpret and enforce those laws comes at the local level. Because of this, the administration of elections can vary widely across jurisdictions.
Registering to vote is the responsibility of individuals in the United States. Voters are not automatically registered to vote once they reach the age of 18. Every state except North Dakota requires that citizens who wish to vote be registered.
Traditionally, voters had to register at state offices to vote, but in the mid-1990s efforts were made by the federal government to make registering easier, in an attempt to increase turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the "Motor Voter" law) forced state governments to make the voter registration process easier by providing uniform registration services through drivers' license registration centers, disability centers, schools, libraries, and mail-in registration. Some states allow citizens to register to vote on the same day of the election, known as Election Day Registration. States with same-day registration are exempt from Motor Voter, namely: Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.Voters may register at the local election office (which is usually at city or town hall) or, one may call the election department and request a voter registration form through the mail. Voter registration forms may be found at public libraries and registries of motor vehicles. These forms must be filled out and mailed to the local election department. Also, one may register at a voter registration drive. The only states with online voter registration are Arizona and Washington, though legislation has been introduced in other states.
Some states prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from voting, known as felony disenfranchisement. One may register wherever one has an address, regardless of its permanence- for example, a college student living away from home may register to vote in the college's city, even if that is not a permanent address. In most states, one must register, usually 30 days before a given election, in order to vote in it. Six states, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming, allow for Election Day Registration.
In some states, when registering to vote, one may declare an affiliation with a List of political parties in the United States|political party. This declaration of affiliation does not cost any money, and it is not the same as being a dues-paying member of a party; for example, a party cannot prevent anybody from declaring his or her affiliation with them, but it can refuse requests for full membership. Some states, including Michigan, Virginia, and Washington do not have party affiliation with registration.
- Long Distance Voter - voter registration and absentee ballot resources for all 50 states.
- Register to vote with Rock the Vote's guided online form. (USA)
- Oregon Bus Project's Building Votes program (a model for peer-to-peer voter registration drives)