ABOUT THE NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION ACT
The National Voter Registration Act Of 1993
Congress enacted the National Voter Registration
Act of 1993 (also known as the "NVRA" and the "Motor Voter Act"),
to enhance voting opportunities for every American. The Act has made it easier for all
Americans to register to vote and to maintain their registration.
The NVRA allows the Department of Justice to bring civil actions in federal court to enforce
its requirements. The Act also gives the responsibility to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
to provide States with guidance on the Act, to develop a national mail voter registration form,
and to compile reports on the effectiveness of the Act. An amendment in the Help America Vote
Act of 2002 transferred the FEC's responsibilities under the Act to the Election Assistance Commission.
Provisions Of The NVRA
In addition to whatever other methods of voter registration which States offer, the Act requires
states to provide the opportunity to apply to register to vote for federal elections by three means:
Section 5 of the Act requires states to provide
individuals with the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they apply for a
driver's license or seek to renew a driver's license, and requires the State to forward the
completed application to the appropriate state of local election official.
of the Act requires states to offer
voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance and all offices
that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities.
Each applicant for any of these services, renewal of services, or address changes must be provided
with a voter registration form of a declination form as well as assistance in completing the form
and forwarding the completed application to the appropriate state or local election official.
of the Act provides that citizens
can register to vote by mail using mail-in-forms developed by each state and the Election Assistance
of the Act also creates requirements
for how States maintain voter registration lists for federal elections. The Act deems as timely
those valid voter registration applications by eligible applicants submitted to designated state
and local officials, or postmarked if submitted by mail, at least 30 days before a federal election.
The Act also requires notification of all applicants of whether their voter registration applications
were accepted or rejected. The Act requires States to keep voter registration lists accurate and
current, such as identifying persons who have become ineligible due to having died or moved outside
the jurisdiction. At the same time, the Act requires list maintenance programs to incorporate
specific safeguards, e.g., that they be uniform, non-discriminatory, in compliance with the Voting
Rights Act, and not be undertaken within 90 days of a federal election. The removal of voters for
non-voting or for having moved can only be done after meeting certain requirements provided in the Act.
The Act allows for removal of voters from registration lists when they have been convicted of a
disqualifying crime or adjudged mentally incapacitated, where such removals are allowed by state
law. The NVRA also provides additional safeguards under which registered voters would be able to
vote notwithstanding a change in address in certain circumstances. For example, voters who move
within a district or a precinct will retain the right to vote even if they have not re-registered
at their new address.
The NVRA became effective in most states on January 1, 1995. The Act applies to 44 states and
the District of Columbia. Section 4(b)
of the Act provided that states were exempt from the Act if, as of August 1, 1994, they had no
voter registration requirements or had election-day registration at polling places. These six
states are Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In addition,
the Act granted additional time to Arkansas, Vermont, and Virginia to comply because they
needed to change their constitutions in order to comply with the Act and maintain a unitary
registration system for federal and state elections.
Enforcement Of The NVRA
After the NVRA became effective, several states failed to take the steps necessary to comply
with the law; several of them also challenged the constitutionality of the Act. Beginning
within a month of the Act's effective date, the Department responded by filling a series of
lawsuits requiring these states to comply with the Act's procedures as well as defending its
Those states involved in the first round of cases included California, Illinois, Michigan,
Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. The Department's
litigation addressed each state's refusal, often on constitutional grounds, to implement
provisions of the Act. As a result of these cases and actions filed by private individuals,
the Act's constitutionality was established and states were ordered to comply with the Act's
Since that time, the United States has continued to bring
litigation to ensure compliance with
all facets of the Act.
Voter Registration Requirements of Sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 Of The NVRA
Please click here for Questions and Answers pertaining to the voter
registration requirements of Sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 of the NVRA.