• January 5, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Allegra Chapman, Director of Voting and Elections,Common Cause

    Ever missed a federal election?  If you’re like most Americans, the answer is yes. In this last presidential election 55% of eligible Americans cast ballots, and in the mid-term before that only 36% did—the lowest rate in 70 years. Voters miss elections for lots of reasons, ranging from illness to work commitments to downright disappointment in the political system. No matter the reason, failing to cast a ballot doesn’t impact your constitutional right to vote down the road.  At least, it shouldn’t. 

    On January 10, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph Institute, a case that addresses whether Ohio elections officials may target for removal from the registration rolls voters who’ve failed to vote, or otherwise update their information, over a two-year period (or one federal election cycle). Thanks to the state’s “supplemental” purging process, roughly two million voter registration records have been removed over the past 15 years.

  • March 15, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, also called the “motor voter” bill) was enacted to make it easier for people to register to vote. It promotes voter registration drives and requires states to permit people to register to vote via a simple postcard when they obtain or renew their drivers’ licenses or through the mail.

    But some states have chosen to move in the opposition direction. For example, Florida in its overhaul of voting procedures not only attempted to limit early voting, it sought to make it onerous for groups like the League of Women Voters to conduct voter registration drives. Arizona enacted a law that would make it more difficult for people to register through the mail, by demanding more proof of citizenship.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has already heard oral argument in a case challenging the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires certain states and towns – those with a clear history of past problems – to obtain “preclearance” of any changes they make to their voting procedures to ensure they do not discriminate against voters because of race. Several of the high court’s right-wing justices appeared ready to strike the preclearance provision in Section 5 of the law. If that were to happen it would deal a significant blow to one of the nation’s most powerful tools to combat racial discrimination in voting.

    On Monday, the high court will hear oral argument in another case challenging the federal government’s constitutional power to protect the right to vote. In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., the justices will consider an opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that invalidated the Arizona law, saying the NRVA cannot be undermined by the states.

    In a friend-of-the-court brief lodged with the Court, the League of Women Voters urges the justices to hold that the NVRA overrides states’ attempts to restrict voting.

    “States should not be allowed to play politics with the voter registration process, the key entry point for political participation in our democracy,” the League’s President Barbara Klein said in a press releaseannouncing the group’s brief.

    The Brennan Center and the Constitutional Accountability Center have also weighed in with an amicus brief urging the court to support the federal government’s constitutional authority to protect the right to vote.


  • November 20, 2009
    The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) has sputtered in removing hurdles to voter registration and the Obama administration and state election officials must renew their efforts to bolster the law, writes Estelle Rogers in an Issue Brief released by ACS.

    Congress passed the NVRA, in part, to increase voter registration and to prod government to encourage voting. When it was enacted, the NVRA was "heralded as a landmark law that would usher in a new era of universal or nearly universal, enfranchisement and political participation," Rogers states in "The National Voter Registration Act: Fifteen Years On."

    But Rogers, the consulting attorney at Project Vote, maintains that while the law has produced some successes, it is hobbled by poor implementation and execution of some its key provisions.

    Rogers writes:

    Without question, the least successful provision of the NVRA is the requirement that social service agencies and offices serving the disabled provide voter registration services similarly to motor vehicle offices. While this requirement was a promising way of reaching out to citizens who didn't interact with DMVs, such as those too impoverished to drive or own cars, the reality has not measured up to the promise. This disappointing track record is due to widespread non-compliance with the mandates of Section 7 and a failure of enforcement by the Department of Justice, particularly in recent years, not with any lack of clarity in the statute itself.

    Section 8 of the NVRA states, "Each state shall insure that any eligible applicant is registered to vote ... and conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters." But Rogers, says that provision has also been hampered by officials.

    "The registration administration provisions of Section 8 are, for the most part, drafted clearly but nevertheless have been widely ignored," she writes. "Significantly increased awareness and enforcement of these provisions is necessary to fulfill the potential of Section 8."

    Federal and state officials' leadership is needed to improve the NVRA, Rogers maintains. The Justice Department, in particular, must "provide much needed guidance and enforcement of sections 7 and 8." And state election officials, she writes, must aggressively approach "their responsibilities under the NVRA." For example, Rogers says that states' top election officials should ensure that election administrators "do not impose unreasonable restrictions on registration drives, and that motor vehicle, disability, and social service agencies consistently fulfill their duties under NVRA."

    Download a pdf version of Rogers' Issue Brief here and for additional analysis of the law, see her ACS guest blog here

  • July 29, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Estelle Rogers, Consulting Attorney, ProjectVote

    The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) has been a disappointment. When the statute was passed in 1993, the civil rights community hailed it as the capstone of the "voting rights revolution" begun by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In a new report from Project Vote, "The National Voter Registration Act at Fifteen," voting rights attorney Estelle Rogers hones in on several of the most important provisions of the NVRA and finds their impact far less dramatic than expected. Despite the promise of the NVRA, voter registration problems were frequently cited as THE ISSUE marring the 2008 election, just as hanging chads were in 2000 and long lines in 2004.

    The NVRA was enacted in response to the shocking statistic that 44 percent of the eligible electorate did not vote in the 1992 presidential election. The legislation's sponsors believed that making it easier to register would eliminate one major barrier to low participation in the future. The primary means Congress chose to increase the number of registered voters was to mandate that registration be offered at places not generally used for that purpose, such as motor vehicle offices and public assistance and disability agencies. Actually, "motor voter" was the original concept. Other agencies were only added later, at the urging of voting rights advocates, who recognized that a broad swath of the American public-particularly low income and minority citizens-does not interact with the DMV at all.