Register to Vote USA


Registration laws making it harder for voters to register correlate strongly with lower percentages of people turning out to vote where voting is voluntary.

Historically in the United States, the southern states of the former Confederacy passed new constitutions and laws at the turn of the century that created barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and complicated record keeping requirements. In practice, in their system of Jim Crow, these elements were used to disenfranchise most African Americans and many poor whites from voting, excluding thousands of people in each state from the political system. The minority of white Democrats in these states controlled the political process and elections, gaining outsize power locally and in Congress as the Solid South. The states maintained such exclusion of most African Americans for more than 60 years. Other minority groups have also been discriminated against by other states at various times in voter registration practices, such as Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and other language minorities.

Because of this history, voter registration laws and practices in the United States have been closely scrutinized by interest groups and the federal government, especially following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It authorized federal oversight of jurisdictions with a history of under-representation of certain portions of their populations in voting. such laws are often controversial. Some advocate for their abolition, while others argue that the laws should be reformed, for instance: to allow voters to register on the day of the election. Several US states – Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming – have adopted this approach, called Election Day Registration. For the 2012 election year, California joined this list.

the United States requires citizens to individually register to vote in the jurisdictions of residence. Some states accept citizen registration at the county level. The only exception is North Dakota, although local jurisdictions in North Dakota may create voter registration requirements. In most U.S. states, citizens registering to vote may declare an affiliation with a political party. This declaration of affiliation does not require the citizen to be a dues-paying member of a party, and may be changed at any time. In many states, only voters affiliated with a party may vote in that party’s primary elections, which are then called closed primaries.

A 2012 study by The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that 24% of the voting-eligible population in the United States are not registered to vote, a percentage that represents “at least 51 million eligible U.S. citizens.” Numerous states had a history of creating barriers to voter registration through a variety of fees, literacy or comprehension tests, and record-keeping requirements that in practice discriminated against racial or ethnic minorities, language minorities, and other groups. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 forbade such abuses and authorized federal oversight in jurisdictions of historic under-representation of certain groups. States continue to develop new practices that may discriminate against certain populations. By August 2016, federal rulings in five cases have overturned all or parts of voter registration or voter ID laws in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and North Dakota that were found to place undue burden on minorities and other groups among voters. The states are required to offer alternatives for the November 2016 elections; many of these cases are expected to reach the US Supreme Court for additional hearings.

While voters traditionally had to register at government offices by a certain amount of time before the election, in the mid-1990s, the federal government made efforts to ease registration to improve access and increase turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the “Motor Voter” law) required state governments to either provide uniform opt-in registration services through drivers’ license registration centers, disability centers, schools, libraries, and mail-in registration, or to allow voter registration on Election Day, where voters can register at polling places immediately prior to voting. In 2015, Oregon became the first state to make voter registration fully automatic (opt-out) as part of the process when issuing driver licenses and ID cards. Political parties and other organizations sometimes hold voter registration drives, organized efforts to register groups of new voters.

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