Automatic Voter Registration

Automatic voter registration is a program that allows the government to register eligible voters to vote. The government uploads information on eligible voters obtained through agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and then registers them to vote, allowing them to opt out of the process if they choose.

Since Oregon’s automatic registration law passed in March of 2015, four other states have passed or implemented similar programs – California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut - and on July 14, 2016, members of Congress introduced automatic voter registration bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Automatic voter registration can include millions of new voters in our political process. It’s an exciting step toward a democracy that includes everyone.

  • To learn more about successful campaigns to pass automatic voter registration, click here!
  • Check out our guides to taking action and getting the word out to learn how you can help pass automatic voter registration in your state.

Download our fact sheet on automatic voter registration here.

 

 

 

Automatic Voter Registration in States

Oregon

In March 2015, Oregon became the first state to automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they request or renew a driver’s license through the DMV. The Secretary of State's office sends new registrants a card telling them they will be added to the voter rolls if they do not opt out within 21 days. The burden of registration shifts from the individual to the state, resulting in a total of 206,554 new voters joining the rolls after being automatically added during the first seven months following the program's launch in January 2016.

Learn more about Oregon's New Motor Voter Act here.

California

California became the second state to pass AVR legislation. A key difference involves the timing of the “opt-out” choice. Unlike Oregon’s law, which has no questions about voter registration at the DMV, in California, people will be asked to affirm their eligibility to vote and, if they choose, opt out of registering at that time. Information about anyone who does not opt out of registration will transfer eletronically from the DMV to the Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State then verifies new voters' citizenship and adds them to the voter rolls. California estimates that the state has 6.6 million eligible but unregistered voters.

Connecticut

In May 2016, Connecticut became the fifth state to institute automatic voter registration, although unlike Oregon, California, West Virginia, and Vermont, Connecticut will implement its AVR program administratively, rather than passing a law. Secretary of State Denise Merrill worked with Connecticut's DMV to establish a system for sharing data to register new voters when they interact with the DMV. Sec. Merrill estimates that the system will add approximately 400,000 new voters to the voting rolls. 

West Virginia

In West Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature, lawmakers from both sides created a compromise bill that combined a moderate voter-ID law that accepts student IDs, bank statements, health insurance cards, and utility bills favored by Republicans with an AVR system proposed by Democrats. The legislation was signed into law in April 2016.

Vermont

Just two weeks after West Virginia, Vermont became the fourth state to automatically register voters who apply for a driver’s license or state ID. The legislation passed with near unanimous support through the Vermont House and Senate. While the law will not take effect until after the 2016 elections, state officials estimate that it could add 30,000 to 50,000 voters to the state’s rolls.

Get the Word Out

A successful campaign for automatic voter registration educates and engages people in your community. Use:

Social Media: Check out these examples from the Bus Project, which organized for Oregon’s New Motor Voter program. The Bus Project:

Remember to take pictures, and share them with us on twitter or facebook!

Op-Eds: Send opinion pieces or updates like the ones below to newspapers.

Press Releases: Press releases are another useful way to work with local media to educate people in your state. For example:

  • The Brennan Center for Justice issued this press release when Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin (D) signed automatic voter registration into law.
  • California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued this press release when California’s legislature passed automatic voter registration.

Check out our templates for press releases, op-eds, sample tweets, and sample graphics to start getting the word out in your state!

Sample Graphics

Use these sample graphics and templates to help your message pop on social media:

Oregon Stats.png

Caption: 

Sample Op-Ed

Fill in the blanks below for an op-ed on automatic voter registration.

CHOOSE one of the following for the first paragraph:

  1. [Start with a brief story about voter registration from your state.]
  2. [Iris Hodge is a single mother from Portland, Oregon. For Hodge, rent increases and job changes have meant moving frequently - approximately every two years. Taking care of her family leaves Hodge little time for worrying about a complicated voter registration process every time she moves, and she isn’t alone. About 29,000 people in Oregon could not vote in the 2008 and 2012 elections because they registered to vote after the registration deadline. “Between my busy work schedule and caring for my son I could easily imagine myself forgetting to update my registration with my new address,” Hodge said. “[Automatic voter registration] would ensure my voice is heard.”]

Automatic Voter Registration is an innovative system that registers voters electronically with data from the Department of Motor Vehicles, streamlining the registration process and reaching a greater number of people who are eligible to vote. Five states - Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut - have passed “New Motor Voter” laws, and early reports show significant increases in the number of registered voters and in voter participation. Several states, including [State Name], are working toward passing automatic voter registration. New Motor Voter laws are an important piece of a growing movement in states across the country to modernize and expand access to the ballot box.

Strong civic engagement is the bedrock of our democracy; without it, the political process that ensures our voices are heard is missing a critical piece. In the 2014 election cycle, voter participation dropped to 36%, the lowest since World War II. According to Pew, in the U.S., 65% of people who are eligible to vote are registered, compared with 96% in Sweden and 93% in the U.K. To encourage more people to participate, we need to register more people to vote - in 2014, 90% of registered voters actually voted, so we know registration and voting are connected.  

In [State Name], [Number of Unregistered Citizens] eligible citizens cannot exercise their voice because they are not registered to vote. Modernizing our elections and shifting the responsibility of protecting and expanding voting rights from the individual to the state will dramatically increase the likelihood that those [Number of Unregistered Citizens] will participate in our elections. The benefits of automatic voter registration are particularly striking for young people. In Oregon, just over 50% of new voters were between 18 and 35 years old, and young people registered through the Oregon Motor Voter program voted in the 2016 Oregon primary at similar or higher rates than young people registered through traditional methods.

Historically, voter registration has acted as a barrier to the fundamental right to vote; in [State Name], automatic voter registration could transform voter registration into an opportunity for all our citizens to participate in the political process. Together, we can bring our elections into the 21st century, and it is urgent that we do. Corporate and special interests are working to enact barriers to voting that silence our voices and disproportionately affect minorities, young people, and other vulnerable populations. Some states are cutting back on measures like early and absentee voting and same-day registration and moving our country backward with laws designed to make voting harder, not easier. Nationwide, the Brennan Center for Justice estimates approximately 50 million eligible Americans remain unregistered to vote, and approximately 24 million registrations contain errors or outdated information that bar registered voters from the ballot box. A wealthy few would rather keep 74 million eligible Americans from voting; in [State Name], we must stand together to move our democracy forward, not back.

States and state legislatures across the country are moving automatic voter registration forward because it works. During Oregon Motor Voter’s first seven months, the Oregon Secretary of State reported 206,554 residents registered to vote using the program. The Elections Division sent an average of 831 new voter registration cards per day - before the automatic voter registration, Oregon registered only 2,023 new voters per month. In Vermont, state officials estimate that automatic voter registration could add as many as 50,000 new voters, and in California, state officials estimate that the New Motor Voter Act could reach about 6.6 million unregistered citizens are eligible to vote.

We already know we can succeed. In the face of these attacks on our democracy, a record-breaking 1.2 million people voted in Oregon’s primary because of the stunning success of Oregon Motor Voter. [State Name] can lead the charge to break records in every election and every state until every voice is heard. Automatic Voter Registration is a crucial first step in building a government that works for all of us, in our state and across the nation, and the people of [State Name] are determined to take it.

 

 

Sample Press Release

If your state legislature introduces an automatic voter registration bill, fill in the blanks below to tell the press about it. Use this format to write press releases when you have campaign updates.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

[Insert date]

CONTACT: [Insert name]

[Insert email]

[Insert phone]

[State Name] State Legislature Introduces [Name of Act]

Modernizing our elections with a New Motor Voter system ensures every voice is heard in our state’s political process.

CITY - State legislature introduced [Bill Number], a measure that would enact an automatic voter registration or “New Motor Voter” system in [State Name]. This system would add thousands of new registrants to the voter rolls when they apply for or renew driver’s licenses or state IDs at the Department of Motor Vehicles. If they choose, citizens can opt out of registering or request to be removed from the voter rolls at any time.

The [State Name] [Name of Act] shifts the burden of registering to vote from the individual to the state and transforms voter registration from a barrier to an opportunity to include as many eligible voices in the political process as possible. Automatic Voter Registration has proven successful in dramatically increasing voter participation; in Oregon, the first state to fully implement the program, registration jumped from just over 2,000 new voters per month to an average of 831 per day during the first six months.

The program is particularly important for young people; 50% of the 206,554 Oregonians registered to vote during the first seven months of Oregon New Motor Voter were under the age of 35, and young voters registered to vote through the DMV equaled or outnumbered voters registered using traditional methods across Oregon’s election districts.

In [State Name], we must deliver on the promise of a democracy that listens to every voice and counts every vote equally. Automatic voter registration is an innovative strategy for modernizing our elections that will help engage a larger, more diverse body of citizens, especially vulnerable populations like young people. Voting should be easier, not harder, because when some voices cannot access our state’s democracy, we all miss out. [Name of Act] will help expand the fundamental right to vote for everyone and ensure that our state’s government truly represents the people of [State Name].

[Name of Organization] strongly urges the state legislature to pass [Name of Act] and stand with the people of [State Name]. “This bill represents the promise of American democracy, a democracy that is of, by, and for the people,” said [Organization Leader]. “Our state depends on equal access to the ballot box, and [Name of Act] will protect the civic sacrament of voting, strengthen the foundation of our democracy, and give our families and our communities the voice we need.”

 

 

Sample Tweets

Sample Tweets: These tweets are a good starting point for amplifying your work among allies and activists. For particular pieces of legislation, use the bill number as a hashtag - in California, for example, activists and advocates used #AB1461. You can also use a more generic hashtag, such as #AVRforAll, or a hashtag specific to your state, such as #AVRinIL (the hashtag Illinois activists used to get the word out). As much as possible, use one or two hashtags consistently.

Tip: Circulating sample tweets among friends and fellow activists can help generate exposure and encourage more people to mobilize and engage with work to expand voting rights.

  • A strong democracy depends on strong citizen participation – #[Bill] guarantees everyone has a voice. #AVRforAll
  • Contact your legislator today and demand action on #[Bill] to protect our state’s democracy. #AVRforAll
  • Together, we can make sure everyone has a voice in our state’s democracy. #AVRforAll #[Bill]
  • Support automatic voter registration and help remove the first barrier to the fundamental right to vote. #AVRforAll #[Bill]
  • The registration gap is hardest on young people. #[Bill] gives our children the access they need to become tomorrow’s voters #NewMotorVoter
  • Together, let’s show America that [State Name] believes in protecting the right to vote for everyone. #AVRforAll #[Bill]
  • In [State Name], we can ensure everyone has a voice in our democracy with automatic voter registration. #AVRforAll #[Bill]
  • I support #[Bill] because I support the voices of millions more citizens who will be registered to vote in [State Name]. #AVRforAll

 

 

 

Take Action

You can take a lot of different actions to fight for automatic voter registration. For example, when the Secretary of State organized public hearings for the Oregon New Motor Voter program, the Bus Project turned people out to attend and testify at hearings. They used this signup form, talked about the hearings on their blog here and here, and promoted the hearings on twitter and using a facebook event.

Actions can be as simple as calling your state’s elected officials or as complicated as turning people out to attend a hearing. You could:

  • Call your state legislators or organize a phone banking event;
  • Circulate a petition among members of your community;
  • Send a postcard to your elected officials;
  • And more!

The materials listed below can help you get started taking action in your community.

Remember: we’re here to help. If you’re mobilizing in your state, let us know!

 

Calling Elected Officials

Fill in the blanks below for a script to use when calling state officials (such as state legislators or the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Secretary of State) and expressing your support for automatic voter registration.

Hello. My name is [Name], from [City/Town]. I’m calling to ask [State Official] to support [Bill #], which will implement an automatic voter registration system in our state. This legislation has the potential to engage thousands of eligible voters, and will minimize registration errors, cut costs, and modernize our state elections. [Bill #] also expands access for communities that often go underserved by turning registration into a gateway for civic engagement, rather than a barrier. Five other states - Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut - have passed automatic voter registration and dramatically increased the number of registered voters. [State Name] must join them in expanding access to our state's democracy and encouraging participation from all citizens in our political process. Thank you.

 

Fill in the blanks below for a script to use when calling state officials (such as state legislators or the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Secretary of State) to thank them for championing automatic voter registration.

Hello. My name is [Name], from [City/Town]. I’m calling to thank [State Official] for fighting to pass [Bill #], which will implement an automatic voter registration system in our state. As a citizen of [State Name], it is very important to me that everyone in our state has access to our political process, and I appreciate [State Official]'s work to engage thousands of eligible voters, minimize registration errors, cut costs, and modernize our state elections. Automatic voter registration expands access for communities that often go underserved by turning registration into a gateway for civic engagement, rather than a barrier. I encourage [State Official] to continue supporting [Bill #], standing for all the communities in our state, and protecting all our voices in the political process. Thank you.

 

Phone Banking in Your Community

Phone banking is a great way to talk to people in your community about automatic voter registration. Follow these key steps to organize a successful phone bank, and check our sample script below.

  1. Choose a location that has everything you need. Make sure you have access to phones, places to charge mobile phones, materials for keeping track of your calls, and necessities like bathrooms and parking for your volunteers.
  2. Recruit volunteers. They can be your friends, family, and neighbors, people from your church or your workplace - anyone who wants to help protect your state’s democracy! Make sure to send out reminders before the event so they know where and when to show up.
  3. Prepare materials ahead of time. You will need:
    • Call lists: Pull names and phone numbers from petitions you’ve circulated, organizations in your coalition, or groups in your community (i.e. church, parent-teacher associations, etc.).
    • A call script: Fill in the blanks in the sample below for a script that your volunteers can use while making their calls.
    • Snacks! If your location allows it, make sure to bring refreshments for your volunteers.
  4. Help your volunteers get to know each other! Encourage volunteers to introduce themselves and talk about why they are volunteering before you begin.
  5. Keep a record. Write down who you’ve talked to, who supports AVR, and who wants to get involved with the campaign.
  6. Debrief. At the end, take the time to reflect with your volunteers and talk about highs, lows, and ways you can improve.

 

Sample Script: Fill in the blanks below for a script that your volunteers can use while making their calls.

Hi! My name is [Name]. I’m from [City/Town], and I’d like to talk to you about automatic voter registration. Do you know what automatic voter registration is?

Automatic voter registration is a program that allows the [State name] government to register people to vote when they request or renew a license at the DMV. Anyone can opt out of registering or request to be removed from the voter rolls at any time. To make sure our voices are heard, we need to register as many people who are eligible to vote as possible, and automatic voter registration is a cheaper, easier, and more effective system that will help engage more people in our democracy.

Sample questions:

  • Do you support automatic voter registration for [State name]?
  • Would you be interested in joining the fight to pass automatic voter registration in our state?
  • Would you be interested in receiving email or mail updates on our campaign to pass automatic voter registration? [If yes, record contact information]
  • Would you be interested in contributing to our campaign?

 

 

Sample Action Alert

Fill in the blanks below for an email action alert. You can also share action alerts on facebook and link to the alert on twitter.

Subject: ACTION NEEDED: [Action Name]

Body:

Dear [Name/Friend],

Our state's democracy needs you! Join activists from all over [State Name] in the fight for automatic voter registration, a program that allows the [State name] government to register people to vote when they request or renew a license at the DMV. Anyone can opt out of registering or request to be removed from the voter rolls at any time.

At [Time] on [Day of the Week, Month + Date], we are gathering together to [Include a short description of your action, i.e. "attend public hearings to testify on behalf of our communities about the need to expand access to voting for all"]. Together, we can modernize our antiquated election system and transform voter registration from a barrier to a gateway to our state's democracy.

Can we count on you? RSVP today in the form below!

[Link to an online form or survey*]

Forward together, not one step back!

[Organization/Campaign Name]

*Online forms include Google forms, SurveyMonkey surveys, and more. Make sure to ask for names, phone numbers, email addresses, and street addresses, which can be helpful for other actions and petitions, as well as any logistical information you need. For example, if you will be serving food at an event, you should ask for details like preference and dietary restrictions.

Sample Petition

Fill in the blanks below to create a petition for members of your community to sign. Keeping track of contact information from people who have signed your petition can be helpful for organizing other actions, such as events and phone banks.

Remove Barriers to Democracy with Automatic Voter Registration

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, and anti-voter restrictions on the state level, automatic voter registration is a significant step forward in the modernization of our voting registration process. [Bill #] creates a secure and modern registration system to engage every eligible citizen in our democracy. 

This bill would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the DMV, and opens the door to expanding the system to other state agencies in the future. 

Similar legislation has already been passed in a diverse range of states like Oregon, California, Vermont, West Virginia, and Connecticut where political leaders are coming together across partisan divides to ensure that voting is accessible. 

We urge our legislators to take a stand for democracy by supporting [Bill #] and bringing automatic voter registration to [State Name]

Signature:

Print Name:         

Phone:         

Email:

Address:

Sample Sign-On Letter

Fill in the blanks to create a sign-on letter for organizations, advocates, and activists to express their solidarity and support for automatic voter registration measures in your state.

Dear [Lawmaker],

We, the undersigned [organizations/constituents], write in support of [Bill #], which provides for Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) through designated government agencies. As organizations dedicated to promoting a fair and accessible democracy, we strongly support passage of this critical piece of legislation. 

AVR takes meaningful strides to modernize voter registration in manners that are robust and inclusive, transforming the voter registration process from a barrier to a gateway of civic engagement. This legislation will add more eligible voters to the rolls and update existing registrations more frequently, giving elections officials a more accurate list.

Five states - Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut - have already passed automatic voter registration and so should [State Name]. This legislation has the potential to engage thousands of new voters while safeguarding the security of the state’s elections processes and cutting down on costs. [Bill #] features many provisions that are considered best practices for enacting and implementing AVR and will position our state as a leader in election modernization and reform.

We urge you to pass [Bill #].

Sincerely,

[List Organizations]

Writing to Elected Officials

Fill in the blanks below for a sample message to a state legislator. When you have finished, handwrite the message, and encourage your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and other members of your community to write their own notes and postcards.

**Collecting and sending handwritten notes or postcards to elected officials is an important tactic for showing legislators that you and your fellow activists feel strongly about passing automatic voter registration and that many of their constituents consider the health of your state’s democracy a priority.**

 

Dear [State Legislator’s Name],

My name is [Name], and I am from [City/Town]. I am writing to ask you to help pass [Bill #], which will implement an automatic voter registration system in our state. Automatic voter registration will help minimize registration errors, cut costs, and modernize our elections. As a citizen of [State Name], it is very important to me that everyone in our state has a voice, and [Bill #] will help ensure that as many eligible people as possible have access to the ballot box.

[Optional: include a personal story about why this issue matters to you!]

Sincerely,

[Signature]