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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993: History, Implementation, and Effects

Royce Crocker
Specialist in American National Government

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. §1973–1973aa-6), legislation had been urged for over two decades that would create a national voter registration system designed to make registration easier and more uniform from state to state. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA, P.L. 103-31, 107 Stat.77, [42 U.S.C. §1973gg et seq.]), the so-called “motor-voter” bill, was signed into law by President Clinton on May 20, 1993. It required states to establish voter registration procedures for federal elections so that eligible citizens might apply to register to vote (1) simultaneously while applying for a driver’s license, (2) by mail, and (3) at selected state and local offices that serve the public. The law took effect on January 1, 1995, for most states.

Proponents argued that the NVRA would make it easier to register to vote, provide more-thanadequate measures to prevent voter fraud by making violations a federal offense, and cost states very little to implement, based on the experiences of states that previously used some form of “motor-voter” registration.

Opponents, on the other hand, argued that there was little evidence that increasing the number of persons on voter registration rolls would lead to higher voter turnout. By making it so easy to register, they believed the act would increase the likelihood of election fraud. Furthermore, according to opponents, implementation would be costly to the states, in terms both of dollars and other administrative costs.

The NVRA has been the law of the land for over 20 years and has been in effect for 18 years. Between 1992 and 2012, voter registration increased nationally by over seven percentage points. The courts have resolved many of the initial issues. A review of the required NVRA reports appears to indicate that the states have come to terms with the provisions, despite the fact that they would still like the federal government to provide funding for the implementation of aspects of the act. While amending parts of the NVRA in minor ways, the Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002, also created additional voter registration demands on the states (HAVA, P.L. 107- 252 [42 U.S.C., Subchapter III, Part A., §15482(a), 15483]).

However, there are still some problems with implementation at the local levels and in some selected state agencies, as well as with the training of non-election officials who are responsible under the NVRA for providing voter registration services. Some would like to curtail parts of the NVRA. Some do not think the NVRA has gone far enough. Proposed legislation introduced in the 113
th Congress to deal with various aspects of the voter registration process includes, among others, H.R. 12, H.R. 97, H.R. 280, H.R. 289, and H.R. 2115. This report provides an historical background for voter registration reform and the NVRA, a description of the major aspects of the act, a discussion of the implementation and post-implementation actions, and a catalog of subsequent efforts to amend or repeal the act. It will be updated as needed.

Date of Report: September 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: R40609
Price: $29.95

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