These questions and answers are designed to provide information and guidance to state and local
officials as well as the general public concerning the provisions of the NVRA and its interaction
with the other statutes enforced by the Department. The Department welcomes comments concerning
- What is the NVRA?
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (also known as the “NVRA” or “motor
voter law”) sets forth certain voter registration requirements with respect to
elections for federal office. Section 5 of the NVRA requires that States offer
voter registration opportunities at State motor vehicle agencies. Section 6
of the NVRA requires that States offer voter registration opportunities by
mail-in application. Section 7 of the NVRA requires that States offer voter
registration opportunities at certain State and local offices, including public
assistance and disability offices. Section 8 of the NVRA contains requirements
with respect to the administration of voter registration by States.
- What States are covered by the NVRA’s requirements?
The requirements of the NVRA apply to 44 States and the District of Columbia.
Six States (Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
are exempt from the NVRA because, on and after August 1, 1994, they either had no
voter-registration requirements or had election-day voter registration at polling
places with respect to elections for federal office. Likewise, the territories are
not covered by the NVRA (Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands, American Samoa). While
the NVRA applies to elections for federal office, States have extended its procedures
to all elections.
SECTION 5 – MOTOR VEHICLE AGENCIES
- What voter registration opportunity is required by Section 5 of the NVRA?
Each State motor vehicle driver’s license application (including any renewal
application) submitted to a State motor vehicle authority must serve as a
simultaneous voter registration application unless the applicant fails to sign
the voter registration application. This application for voter registration must
be considered as updating any previous voter registration by the applicant.
In addition, any change of address form submitted for State driver’s license
purposes must also serve as notification of change of address for voter
registration purposes unless the registrant states on the form that the change
of address is not for voter registration purposes. This means that all changes
of address submitted to State motor vehicle offices must be forwarded to election
authorities unless the registrant affirmatively requests otherwise by opting
out on the form.
- Do the voter registration requirements of Section 5 of the NVRA
apply to all license transactions with driver’s license offices?
Yes. The NVRA defines the term 'motor vehicle driver's license" to include
“any personal identification document issued by a State motor vehicle authority.”
Hence, the NVRA voter registration opportunity applies to applications,
renewals, and change of address transactions regarding any personal
identification document issued by a State motor vehicle authority.
Moreover, to the extent that the State provides for remote applications for driver’s
licenses, driver’s license renewals, or driver’s license changes of address,
via mail, telephone, or internet or other means, then provision must be made to
include the required voter registration opportunity as well.
- Does Section 5 of the NVRA mandate the use by States of any particular forms or procedures?
Yes. Each State must include a voter registration form as part of an
application for a State driver’s license and any application for driver’s
The voter registration portion of the application may not require any information
that duplicates information required on the driver’s license portion of the application
and may require only the minimum amount of information necessary to prevent duplicate
voter registrations and permit State officials both to determine the eligibility of the
applicant to vote and to administer the voting process.
The voter registration application must state each voter eligibility requirement
(including citizenship), contain an attestation that the applicant meets each
requirement, state the penalties provided by law for submission of a false
voter registration application and require the signature of the applicant under
penalty of perjury. In addition, the application shall also include statements
specifying that: 1) if an applicant declines to register to vote, the fact that
the applicant has declined to register will remain confidential and will be used
only for voter registration purposes; and 2) if an applicant does register to vote,
the identity of the office at which the applicant submits a voter registration
application will remain confidential and will be used only for voter registration purposes.
When a state contracts with a private entity to administer services in an agency that is
required to offer voter registration, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring provision of
voter registration services remains with the state, and the voter registration requirements
under the NVRA remain the same.
- What is a motor vehicle agency required to do with completed voter
registration applications accepted at its offices?
Completed voter registration applications accepted at a motor vehicle agency must be
transmitted to the appropriate State election official no later than ten days
after acceptance. However, if an application is accepted at a motor vehicle agency
within five days of a voter registration deadline for an election, the application
must be transmitted to election officials no later than five days after acceptance.
The agency providing voter-registration services may not require a registrant to
mail in the form himself or herself or discourage him or her in any manner from
submitting the form to the agency. Similarly, if it is agency practice to make
sure that agency forms are completed and signed when submitted by an applicant,
the same practice should apply to a voter registration application submitted by
SECTION 6 – MAIL REGISTRATION
- What are the requirements for voter registration by mail provided by Section 6 of the NVRA?
Section 6 of the NVRA requires each State to accept and use the federal mail voter
registration application form developed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. This
form is available on the EAC’s web site at http://www.eac.gov/program-areas/national-voter-registration-form.
In addition to containing a voter-registration application, this EAC application
booklet describes certain state-specific requirements. The national form and
booklet have been developed by the EAC in consultation with the States.
- Can a State develop its own mail voter registration application?
Yes. Section 6 of the NVRA also provides that, in addition to accepting and using
the federal mail application, a State may develop and use its own mail voter
registration form, if it meets all of the same criteria the NVRA requires for
the EAC’s national mail voter registration application.
- What are the requirements for the national mail voter registration application?
Section 9 of the NVRA provides that the national mail voter registration application
may require only such identifying information (including the signature of the
applicant) and other information (including data relating to previous
registration by the applicant), as is necessary to enable the appropriate State
election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant and to administer
voter registration and other parts of the election process.
The application also must include a statement that specifies each eligibility
requirement (including citizenship), contain an attestation that the applicant
meets each such requirement and require the signature of the applicant under
penalty of perjury. The mail application must also include a statement of the
penalties provided by law for submission of a false voter registration application.
The mail application must also include statements specifying that: 1) if an
applicant declines to register to vote, the fact that the applicant has
declined to register will remain confidential and will be used only for voter
registration purposes; and 2) if an applicant does register to vote, the
identity of the office at which the applicant submits a voter registration
application will remain confidential and will be used only for voter
registration purposes. The mail application may not include any requirement
for notarization or other formal authentication.
Section 303(b) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) also requires
that the national mail application include certain additional information:
First, the question "Are you a citizen of the United States of America?" and
boxes for the applicant to check to indicate whether the applicant is or is
not a citizen of the United States. Second, the question "Will you be 18
years of age on or before election day?" and boxes for the applicant to
check to indicate whether or not the applicant will be 18 years of age or older
on election day. Third, the statement, "If you checked 'no' in response
to either of these questions, do not complete this form." Fourth, a
statement informing the individual that if the form is submitted by mail and
the individual is registering for the first time, the appropriate identification
required by HAVA must be submitted with the mail-in registration form to avoid
the additional identification requirements upon voting for the first time.
(See Question 11 below for a list of these forms of identification).
- Does the NVRA require States to make mail voter registration
Yes. The chief election official of each State must make mail voter registration
applications available for distribution through governmental and private entities,
with particular emphasis on making them available for organized voter registration
programs. Most states satisfy these requirements by, among other things, making
applications available at local registrar offices, driver license offices, public
assistance offices and disability-service offices, to groups doing voter registration
drives, and through the internet on the website of the chief election official. These
forms are also available on the website of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
- What requirements does federal law place on first-time voters who register to vote by mail?
If a person registers to vote by mail and has not previously voted in a federal
election in a State, Section 303(b) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 established new requirements.
Where a person registers to vote by mail and has not previously voted in a federal
election in a State, if the voter does not qualify for one of the exemptions in
Section 303(b)(3) of HAVA (described below), then he or she must submit one of
the forms of identification required by Section 303(b)(2)(A) of HAVA the first time
that he or she votes in a federal election. These forms of identification are: 1) a
current and valid photo identification; or 2) a copy of a current utility bill, bank
statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the
name and address of the voter. If the voter does not present the required
identification, Section 303(b)(2)(B) of HAVA provides that he or she may nonetheless
cast a provisional ballot.
Sections 303(b)(3)(A)-(C) of HAVA create certain exemptions from these
identification requirements. An applicant who provides the specified
identification documents with his or her registration application (or otherwise
provides such documentation to election officials before Election Day), is
exempt from the requirement to show identification the first time he or she
votes in a federal election. Likewise, an applicant who provides his or her
driver’s license number or last four digits of his or her social security number,
and the State is able to match this information against an existing State record,
is exempt from the requirement to show identification the first time he or she
votes in a federal election. In addition, persons entitled to vote by absentee
ballot under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, or entitled
to vote other than in person under the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and
Handicapped Act or other federal law, are exempt from HAVA’s identification requirements.
SECTION 7 – VOTER REGISTRATION AGENCIES
- Under Section 7 of the NVRA, which offices must offer voter-registration services?
Any office in a covered State that provides either public assistance or
state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with
disabilities must offer voter-registration services. Armed Forces recruitment offices must also
provide voter registration services. In addition, a State must designate other
offices in the State as voter-registration agencies. (See Question 15 below for a
description of these other offices).
- What is an office that provides public assistance under Section 7?
“Public assistance” offices that must offer voter-registration services
under Section 7 of the NVRA include each agency and office in a State that administers or
provides services or assistance under any public assistance programs. This includes
any of the following federal public assistance programs: the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food-Stamp Program), the Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families (TANF) program (formerly the Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC
program), the Medicaid program, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
This also includes state public assistance programs.
- What is an office that provides state-funded programs primarily engaged in
providing services to persons with disabilities?
Offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing
services to persons with disabilities include offices providing vocational rehabilitation,
transportation, job training, education counseling, rehabilitation, or independent-living
services for persons with disabilities. Because States vary greatly in the manner in
which they provide services to persons with disabilities, each State must identify
the specific offices and agencies that fit this definition. In doing so, States may
want to consult with offices that deal with issues related to persons with disabilities,
such as the protection and advocacy offices and client assistance program offices within
that State. A list of such offices for each State is available at:
http://www.napas.org/aboutus/PA_CAP.htm. Section 7 also requires that if an office
provides services to a person with disabilities at the person’s home, the
office must provide the opportunity to register to vote at home. Offices serving
persons with disabilities often offer specialized assistance in completing the
agency service or benefit application forms, and Section 7 requires such offices
to offer voter registration applicants the same degree of assistance in completing
voter registration forms as is offered in completing the agency’s own application forms.
- Does Section 7 require designation of other offices as voter registration agencies?
Yes. In addition to offices providing public assistance and services to persons
with disabilities, States are also required by Section 7 to designate “other offices”
within a State as voter-registration agencies. A State is free to determine
which other agencies/offices should be designated, according to its needs and
preferences, but it must make additional designations. Such other agency designations
may include State or local government offices such as public libraries, public schools,
State colleges, universities and community colleges, city and county clerks
offices, marriage license offices, fishing and hunting license offices,
government revenue offices, and unemployment compensation offices. Offices not
otherwise covered under the NVRA that provide services to persons with disabilities
may also be designated. In addition, with the agreement of such entities, States may
designate as voter-registration agencies nongovernmental offices (such as private colleges)
or Federal government offices.
- Do armed forces recruitment offices have to provide voter-registration services?
Yes. The NVRA provides that all federal Armed Forces recruitment offices in each
State subject to the NVRA must provide voter registration services. Within the
Department of Defense, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) maintains a
web site that contains information concerning voter registration at Armed Forces recruitment offices: http://www.fvap.gov/reference/laws/nat-vote-reg-act.html and
- What voter-registration services must be made available?
Each office designated as a voter registration agency under Section 7 that provides
service or assistance in addition to conducting voter registration must do the
- distribute voter-registration application forms;
- provide an “information” form that contains information on
the voter-registration process (see Question 21 below for a
description of the “information” form);
- provide the same level of assistance to all applicants in completing
voter-registration application forms as is provided with respect to every other
service or application for benefits (unless the applicant specifically refuses
- accept completed voter-registration forms from applicants; and
- transmit each completed voter-registration application to the
appropriate State election official within a prescribed time frame.
- What persons must be provided the opportunity to register to vote
by Section 7 designated offices and agencies?
Designated agencies must provide the opportunity to register to vote to
persons when: (1) applying for the agency’s assistance or services; (2) seeking
recertification or renewal of those services; and (3) changing address for the
assistance or services.
- What does Section 7 require with regard to distribution of voter
registration forms and information forms?
Each office designated under Section 7 that provides services or assistance
must distribute to each applicant for services or assistance, and each applicant
for recertification, renewal or change of address with respect to such services
or assistance, one of the voter registration application forms described in
Question 20 below. In addition, each such office also must distribute to each
applicant a form, known as an information form, described in
Question 21 below.
- What types of voter-registration forms can be distributed to applicants?
Section 7 agencies must distribute one of the three voter-registration forms listed below:
- National Mail Voter Registration Form — The agency may use this
federal form, which has been developed by the U.S. Election Assistance
Commission. This form is available on the EAC’s web site at
http://www.eac.gov/program-areas/national-voter-registration-form. In addition
to containing a voter-registration application, this document lists certain state-specific
- State mail voter-registration form — The agency may use its State mail
voter-registration form, so long as it meets the requirements of Section 9 of
the NVRA. This State form would not be as lengthy as the federal form, which
contains information about voter registration in each state. Such a form
should be easier for applicants to navigate and easier for agencies and
election officials to process.
- Designated agency’s own form — The agency also may use its own
version of a voter-registration form, if it is equivalent to the federal form and
has been approved by the State. This type of form may lead to more efficient
voter-registration transactions at designated agencies that provide services or
assistance, since it could be made a seamless part of the forms normally used
by the designated agency. As an example, where agency assistance/services forms
are generated by computer during the process of interviewing the applicant, the
voter-registration form likewise might be generated during this same process,
pre-populated with information already provided by the applicant. Or a
perforated voter-registration application might be attached at the bottom of a
State services form, so that it can be easily completed, detached, and
transmitted to the appropriate election official.
- What is the “information form,” and what should States put on it?
Section 7 requires that designated offices provide each applicant for services or
assistance an information form containing specific information
concerning the individual’s opportunity to register to vote. This form, which
may be part of or separate from the voter-registration form, must include the
- the question, “If you are not registered to vote where you live now,
would you like to apply to register to vote here today?”;
- if the agency provides public assistance, the statement, “Applying
to register or declining to register to vote will not affect the amount of
assistance that you will be provided by this agency.”;
- boxes for the applicant to check to indicate whether the applicant
would like to register to vote or declines to register to vote, together with the statement
(in close proximity to the boxes and in prominent type), “IF YOU DO NOT CHECK
EITHER YOU WILL BE CONSIDERED TO HAVE DECIDED NOT TO REGISTER TO VOTE AT THIS TIME.”
(Failure to check either box is deemed a declination to register for purposes of
receiving assistance in registration but is not deemed a written declination to receive
- the statement, “If you would like help in filling out the voter
registration application form, we will help you. The decision whether to seek
or accept help is yours. You may fill out the application form in private."; and
- the statement, “If you believe that someone has interfered with your
right to register or to decline to register to vote, your right to privacy in
deciding whether to register or in applying to register to vote, or your right
to choose your own political party or other political preference, you may file
a complaint with _ _ _ _ _.” The blank should be filled by the name, address,
and telephone number of the appropriate official to whom such a complaint
should be addressed.
No information relating to a declination to register to vote may be used
for any purpose other than voter registration. If the information form is
separate from the voter-registration form, it is recommended that a
statement regarding this non-use of declination information be included on
the voter-registration form, as well as a statement that if the applicant
registers to vote, information submitted will be used only for
- Are Section 7 agencies required to assist persons in
completing a voter-registration application?
Yes. Section 7 agencies must provide to each applicant the same degree
of assistance in completing the voter-registration application form as is
provided by the office in completing its own agency forms, unless the
applicant declines to register to vote or declines such assistance.
As an example, if it is the practice of a Section 7 agency for its employees
to take time to explain to each applicant the various forms involved in the agency
application, recertification or other process and answer applicant questions
before the applicant completes the forms, this type of assistance must also be
given at that time to such applicants with regard to the voter registration
application process. Similarly, if it is agency practice to make sure that
agency forms are completed and signed when submitted by an applicant, the same
practice should apply to a voter registration application submitted by that applicant.
Offices serving persons with disabilities often offer specialized assistance in
completing the agency service or benefit application forms. Section 7 requires
such offices to offer voter registration applicants the same degree of assistance
in completing voter registration forms as is offered in completing the agency’s
own application forms.
- Does Section 7 put any restrictions on how office staff may interact with applicants?
Yes. Any person who provides voter-registration services at a Section 7 agency is
prohibited from: 1) seeking to influence an applicant’s political preference
or party registration; 2) displaying any political preference or party allegiance;
3) taking any action or making any statement to an applicant to discourage the
applicant from registering to vote; or 4) taking any action or making any
statement that may lead the applicant to believe that a decision to register
or not to register has any bearing on the availability of services or benefits.
- Do the voter registration requirements of Section 7 of the NVRA
apply to all application, renewal, recertification and change of address
transactions with designated offices?
Yes. The NVRA requires that voter registration opportunities be provided with
respect to all application, renewal, recertification and change of address
transactions regarding service and assistance with Section 7 offices. Many
Section 7 designated agencies/offices routinely provide services/assistance
such as application for, or renewal of, services or change-of-address
notification through the internet, by telephone, or by mail. States should
ensure the availability of voter-registration opportunities to individuals
using such remote service/assistance opportunities from designated agencies.
Thus, for all such internet transactions, States should advise of the
opportunity to register to vote, and should provide some online capability
to download or request a voter-registration form. For phone transactions,
designated-agency personnel should advise applicants of the opportunity to
register to vote and to request a voter registration form. Materials sent
by mail to individuals completing phone or internet transactions (such as
statements confirming a phone transaction, or renewal or change-of-address
forms) should contain a voter-registration form.
In all such internet, phone, and mail transactions, individuals should be given a
toll-free phone number, where possible, to call for information and instruction
on how to complete the voter-registration process. Where feasible, as is done at many
motor-vehicle agencies, States may consider providing for a simultaneous
voter-registration opportunity through the electronic portal when individuals
apply for services or assistance at a designated agency by that means. In addition,
where possible, agencies may consider assisting the applicant in registering to
vote by automatically filling in appropriate fields on voter-registration
applications with information previously provided by the applicant in order
to make the registration process easier and more efficient.
When upgrading technology related to the application/recertification/change of
address process at Section 7 agencies, States should ensure that such upgrade
includes the voter registration process.
When a state contracts with a private entity to administer services in an agency
that is required to offer voter registration, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring
provision of voter registration services remains with the state, and the voter
registration requirements under the NVRA remain the same.
- What is a Section 7 agency required to do with completed
voter registration applications accepted at its offices?
The designated agency must submit the completed voter-registration application to
the appropriate State or local election official within a prescribed period of
time unless the applicant desires to submit it himself or herself. The agency
providing voter-registration services may not require a registrant to mail
in the form himself or herself or discourage him or her in any manner
from submitting the form to the agency. When an applicant submits a completed
voter-registration application to an agency, the agency must transmit the form
to the appropriate State or local election official within ten days. However, if
the agency receives a completed voter-registration application within five days
before the last day to register to vote in an election, the application must be
transmitted to the appropriate State or local election official within five days.
SECTION 8 – ADMINISTRATION OF VOTER REGISTRATION
- What does Section 8 of the NVRA require States to do?
Section 8 mandates certain action by States concerning the administration of voter
registration for elections for federal office. These requirements involve important
issues such as the date by which valid voter registration applications must be accepted
and eligible persons registered, rules for changing a registrant’s address information,
rules for removing names from the voter registration list, and administration of a
uniform, nondiscriminatory voter registration list maintenance program that
complies with the Voting Rights Act.
- Does Section 8 impose a time deadline on States for accepting voter
registration applications and registering eligible applicants?
Yes. States must set a voter registration cutoff for federal elections of no
more than 30 days before the election. A valid voter registration application from
an eligible applicant is considered timely and the State has to ensure that the
applicant is registered to vote if it is: 1) submitted not later than the lesser
of 30 days, or the period provided by State law, before the date of a federal election
to a driver’s license office, designated public assistance or disability office,
other designated office, or an appropriate State or local election official,
or 2) postmarked not later than the lesser of 30 days, or the period provided by
State law, before a federal election when submitted by mail. States can set
a voter registration deadline for federal elections shorter than 30 days, and a
number of States do so, but cannot set a longer deadline.
- Are States required to let an applicant know what has happened to his or her application?
Yes. Section 8 requires State election officials to notify each applicant of
the disposition of his or her registration application, e.g., a voter registration
card if the application is accepted or a notice of rejection if the application is
Where a notice of disposition for a mail voter registration application is sent by
by nonforwardable mail and returned as undeliverable, Section 6 of the NVRA provides that
local election officials may proceed in accordance with the provisions of Section 8(d) of
the NVRA (see Question 35 below).
- Under the NVRA, what are the circumstances under which a State
can remove a person’s name from the voter registration rolls?
Section 8 permits States to remove the name of a person from the voter registration
rolls upon the request of the registrant, and, if State law so provides, for
mental incapacity or for criminal conviction. The Act also requires States to
conduct a general voter registration list maintenance program that makes a
reasonable effort to remove ineligible persons from the voter rolls by reason of
the person’s death, or a change in the residence of the registrant outside of the
jurisdiction, in accordance with procedures set forth in the NVRA. The
list maintenance program must be uniform, nondiscriminatory and in compliance
with the Voting Rights Act.
- Does the NVRA contain any prohibitions on removal of persons’
names from the voter registration list?
Yes. Section 8 of the NVRA contains several restrictions on removals from
the voter registration list. It prohibits removing registrants from the
voter registration list solely because of the failure to vote. It also prohibits
removing registrants from the registration list due to a change of address to
another location within the same registrar’s jurisdiction, even if the voter
has failed to notify the registrar of the move within the jurisdiction. It also
places restrictions of notice and timing on removals from the voter registration
list when second-hand information is received, such as returned mail, which
suggests a registrant may have moved outside of the registrar’s jurisdiction.
- What is “removal at the request of the registrant” under Section 8?
A "removal at the request of the registrant" under the NVRA involves
first-hand information from a registrant that can originate in at least three
ways: 1) an unsolicited direct request from the registrant to remove his or her
name from the voting registration list, 2) a registrant completing and
returning a confirmation card indicating an address change outside the
jurisdiction, or 3) a registrant submitting a new application registering to
vote a second time in a new jurisdiction, and providing information regarding
the registrant’s prior voter registration address on the new application, which
the State can treat as a request to cancel or transfer his or her prior
registration. A registrant advising of a new address within the same jurisdiction,
or registering to vote a second time at a new address within the same jurisdiction,
should trigger an updating of the original registration, rather than its cancellation.
- Are there any required procedures in the NVRA concerning removal of
a person’s name from the voter registration rolls for mental incapacity, criminal conviction or death?
The NVRA does not require any particular process for removing persons who have been
disqualified from voting pursuant to State law based upon a criminal conviction or
an adjudication of mental incapacity. Moreover, while the NVRA requires
States to make reasonable efforts to remove persons who have died, it does not require
any particular process for doing so. States can follow whatever State
law process exists for doing this. Section 303(a) of HAVA adds an additional requirement
for NVRA covered States to coordinate the statewide voter registration database with
State records on felony status and death. HAVA provides that list maintenance on the
statewide database shall be done on a regular basis in accordance with the requirements of the NVRA.
In those States where state law provides for removals from the voter rolls based on mental
incapacity or criminal conviction, state laws generally provide for election officials to rely
on court determinations to identify the individuals who are subject to removal. Section 8 of
the NVRA also provides for the U.S. Attorney Offices to forward information regarding
felony criminal convictions in federal courts to chief state election officials.
- Is there a “safe harbor” program for list maintenance which a State can
implement to satisfy the NVRA’s requirements?
Yes. The NVRA gives one example of such a safe harbor program for list maintenance:
a) the NVRA provides that a State may utilize change of address information supplied
by the United States Postal Service through its National Change of Address
program (NCOA) to identify registrants whose addresses may have changed;
b) because this is second-hand information, not directly from the registrant,
the NVRA prescribes a subsequent confirmation notice procedure that States
must follow to verify possible address changes outside the jurisdiction
generated from the NCOA program; and c) the NVRA specifies a subsequent waiting
period after the confirmation notice is sent before a State can remove voters
from the rolls for address changes outside the jurisdiction absent written
confirmation from the voter. Other possible examples of a general list maintenance
program could include States undertaking a uniform mailing of a voter registration
card, sample ballot, or other election mailing to all voters in a jurisdiction,
for which the State could use information obtained from returned non-deliverable
mail as the basis for correcting voter registration records (for apparent moves
within a jurisdiction) or for sending a forwardable confirmation notice and beginning
the two federal general election waiting period before removal (for apparent moves
outside a jurisdiction or non-deliverable mail with no forwarding address noted).
- Under what circumstances does the NVRA allow States to remove the names
of persons from the voting rolls based on change of residence?
A State can only remove the name of a person from the voter registration list on
grounds of change of residence upon: 1) the voter’s written first-hand
confirmation of a change of address to a location outside of the registrar’s
jurisdiction, or 2) reliable second-hand information indicating a
change of address outside of the jurisdiction from a source such as the NCOA
program, or a general mailing to all voters, plus the subsequent
failure of the person to respond to a specific forwardable confirmation mailing sent
by the State and the failure of the person to vote or appear to vote
during the period ending on the day after the second federal general election
subsequent to the confirmation notice being sent.
- What is the NVRA confirmation mailing/notice process to which
States must adhere to verify a registrant’s change of residence?
Where a State that has obtained reliable information indicating a possible
change of residence for a registrant through the NCOA program (or another uniform
list maintenance program like a general mailing to all registrants), it must take
certain steps to confirm such address change since it is second-hand information
not coming directly from the registrant. These steps differ depending on whether
the apparent change of address is inside or outside a registrar’s jurisdiction:
- In the case of a person who appears to have moved to a new address
inside the same registrar’s jurisdiction, the registrar shall not
remove the voter’s name from the list, but must update the registration records
to show the new address and send a forwardable mail notice of the address change
to the registrant along with a prepaid pre-addressed return form for the registrant
to verify or correct the residence information. If such person fails to return
this form, however, the registrant cannot be removed from the voter rolls by
reason of this apparent change of residence within the jurisdiction and should
not be designated as inactive;
- In the case of a person who appears to have moved to a new address
outside the registrar’s jurisdiction, the registrar must initiate
an address confirmation procedure before removing the voter. This entails sending
a forwardable notice, in the form of a postage-prepaid and pre-addressed return card,
on which the registrant may state his or her current address. The notice must track
the specific language in Section 8(d)(2) of the NVRA, i.e., it must advise that if
the registrant did not change his or her residence, or changed residence but remained
in the registrar's jurisdiction, the registrant should return the card not later than
the voter registration deadline, and that if the card is not returned,
affirmation or confirmation of the registrant's address may be required before
the registrant is permitted to vote in a federal election during the period
beginning on the date of the notice and ending on the day after the date of the
second general election for Federal office that occurs after the date of the
notice, and if the registrant does not vote in an election during that period
the registrant's name will be removed from the list of eligible voters. The
jurisdiction may designate the registrant as inactive if the registrant fails
to return the confirmation notice by the voter registration deadline for the
next election after the confirmation notice is sent. If the registrant subsequently
provides written confirmation of a change of address to outside of the
jurisdiction, the registrant can be immediately removed from the rolls. If the
registrant has not moved outside the jurisdiction and subsequently votes or
appears to vote in an election before the second general election for Federal
office after the confirmation notice is sent, the registrant should be
restored to active status.
- If this confirmation notice card is not returned within the
specified time, can the State then remove the voter from the registration
rolls for an apparent address change?
No. A voter can be removed from the voter rolls for an apparent address
change only if he or she has not responded to the confirmation
notice sent by forwardable mail with a postage prepaid and pre-addressed
return card, and if she or she has not voted or appeared to
vote in an election beginning on the date the notice is sent and ending on
the day after the date of the second federal general election after the date
of the confirmation notice.
- Does Section 8 impose any time restrictions on States as to
when a general list maintenance program can be conducted?
Yes. Section 8 requires States to complete any program the purpose of
which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list
of eligible voters not later than 90 days prior to the date of a primary election or
general election for federal office. This 90 day deadline applies to state list maintenance
verification activities such as general mailings and door to door canvasses. This 90 day
deadline does not, however, preclude removal of names at the request of the registrant, removal due
to death of the registrant, removal due to criminal conviction or mental
incapacity of the registrant as provided by State law, nor does the deadline preclude
correction of a registrant’s information.
- Are there any protections in the NVRA for those eligible registered
voters who have changed address to another location within a registrar’s jurisdiction,
or are otherwise on an inactive voter list, but have not notified the registrar
prior to the date of a federal election?
Yes. The NVRA contains fail-safe provisions to enable such persons who show
up to vote on a federal election day to update their registration and to vote in
that election even though they have not notified the registrar of the address change:
- An eligible registered voter who has moved to an address in an area
covered by the same polling place as his or her previous address is permitted
to vote at that same polling place upon oral or written affirmation by the
registrant of the change of address at the polling place;
- An eligible registered voter who has moved to an address in an area
covered by a different polling place from the polling place for his or her
previous address, but within the same registrar’s jurisdiction and the
same congressional district, at the option of the registrant:
- shall be permitted to correct the voting records and vote at the old
polling place upon oral or written affirmation by the registrant of the new address
before an election official at that polling place; or
- shall be permitted to correct the voting records and vote at a designated
central location within the same registrar’s jurisdiction, upon written affirmation
by the registrant of the new address on a standard form provided by the registrar; or
- shall be permitted to correct the voting records for purposes of future
elections at the new polling place, and shall be permitted vote in the current election
at that polling place if allowed under State law, upon confirmation by the registrant
of the new address by such means as are required by law.
A central voting location need not be made available by the registrar if State
law allows the person to vote at either the old or new polling place in the current
election upon oral or written affirmation of the address change.
The failsafe provisions of Section 8 draw a distinction between the registrant’s
need for “affirmation” or “confirmation” of a new address, depending upon the
circumstances in which the failsafe voting occurs.
- What if a mistake has been made, and registration records indicate
that a person has moved from an address covered by a polling place when that person
has in fact not moved?
If a person has not moved, but the registration records indicate that a person has
moved from an address covered by a polling place, that person shall be permitted
to vote at that polling place upon oral or written affirmation by the registrant
that the registrant continues to reside at his or her address previously known
to the registrar.
- Are States required to keep records of their voter registration
activities under the NVRA?
Yes. Section 8 of the NVRA requires that States keep and make available for
public inspection, for a period of at least two years, all records concerning
the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of
ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters, except
to the extent that such records relate to a declination to register to vote or
to the identity of a voter registration agency through which any particular voter
is registered. The records to be kept shall include lists of the names and addresses
of all persons to whom confirmation notices are sent, and information concerning
whether or not each such person has responded to the notice, as of the date that
inspection of the records is made.
In addition, an independent requirement in 42 U.S.C. 1974 mandates that all
records and papers relating to any application, registration, or other act
requisite to voting in any election for federal office, be preserved for a
period of twenty-two months from that federal election. Since voter registration
is unitary and permanent, this obligation is ongoing, such that registration
records must be preserved as long as the voter registration to which they
pertain is considered an “active” one under local law and practice, and those
records cannot be disposed of until the expiration of twenty-two months following
the date on which the registration ceased to be “active.” Hence, States should
maintain all written records related to applications to register to vote as well
as declinations to register to vote. The Department of Justice can require that
such records be produced for inspection and copying through a written demand, and
a lawsuit to enforce such demand.
COORDINATION, REPORTING, AND ENFORCEMENT
- What are the State’s obligations to coordinate voter registration activities?
The State is responsible for ensuring compliance with the NVRA. The NVRA
requires each State to designate a State officer or employee as the chief
State election official to be responsible for coordinating State responsibilities
under the Act. Because of the importance of monitoring compliance with the NVRA's
voter registration requirements, States should consider employing a person at the State level
to serve as the NVRA coordinator for the State. This person could be responsible
for coordinating and overseeing all NVRA activity at designated voter-registration
agencies/offices in the State. In addition, States may consider employing a person
at each designated voter-registration agency, and at each designated agency office,
whose ongoing responsibility would be coordinating and overseeing the conduct of
all voter registration activities in that agency/office. This person’s
responsibilities could include ensuring that the voter registration
responsibilities are carried out, ensuring that the voter registration system
is administered in a uniform and non-discriminatory manner, reviewing monthly
data of voter-registration activity at voter registration offices, monitoring
voter-registration activities, training new employees and providing for
training updates at periodic intervals, ensuring an adequate supply of forms,
and resolving voter-registration coordination issues that arise between State
and local officials.
- Are States required to report on their NVRA voter-registration
and list maintenance efforts?
Yes. States must report various voter registration information to the
U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), in response to the EAC survey,
every two years. This includes the number of voter-registration applications
by mail and from motor vehicle offices, public-assistance offices, offices
providing state-funded programs primarily serving persons with disabilities,
Armed Forces recruitment offices, and other state-designated offices and
agencies. Likewise, States must report voter registration list maintenance
information in response to the EAC survey every two years.
These biennial NVRA reports are available on the EAC web site at the following
States should ensure that the NVRA data provided to the EAC is complete and accurate.
The Department of Justice carefully considers this data, among other information, in
determining how it will carry out its enforcement responsibilities.
To facilitate accurate NVRA data reporting to the EAC, states should consider having
a system in place to track the number of voter registration applications from each
designated voter registration agency. Barcodes or other coding could be included on voter
registration applications to designate the agency from which the form originated. Such
coding can be implemented in such a way that also allows states to comply with the
obligation not to disclose the office at which any particular individual has registered
- For jurisdictions covered by the language minority provisions of
the Voting Rights Act, what obligations do such jurisdictions have to ensure voter
registration access under the NVRA to covered limited-English proficient citizens?
Certain States and local jurisdictions are covered by the language minority
requirements of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) for specific language minority
groups. The VRA requires that when covered states and jurisdictions provide
voter registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other
materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots,
they must provide them in the language of the applicable minority group as well
as in the English language. The NVRA provides that its requirements do not
supersede, restrict, or limit the application of the requirements of the VRA.
Thus, each State or jurisdiction covered by the language minority requirements
of the VRA should consider how to ensure that NVRA voter registration opportunities
are conducted so as to provide language access to covered limited-English
proficient language minority citizens so that they have equal access to the
voter registration process.
To assist covered States and jurisdictions, extensive information regarding the
language minority requirements is available on the Voting Section’s
website: http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/sec_203/activ_203.php. Various
language resources are also available on the EAC website. These include
versions of the national mail voter registration form translated into Spanish,
Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. http://www.eac.gov/voter/Register
to Vote. These resources also include translated versions of a voter’s guide to federal
elections. http://www.eac.gov/voter/voters-guides. And these resources also include
a glossary of election terms in six languages. http://www.eac.gov/voter/language-accessibility-program-1.
- What agency is responsible for enforcement of the NVRA?
The U.S. Department of Justice has enforcement responsibility under the NVRA.
The Department undertakes activities designed to ensure compliance with the NVRA,
including monitoring state compliance, conducting investigations and, filing litigation
in federal court to enforce the NVRA’s requirements. Private parties may also
bring litigation in federal court to enforce the NVRA. The U.S.
Election Assistance Commission is responsible for administration of the national voter
registration form, as well as State reporting under the NVRA.
- What are some examples of the Department’s activities to enforce
the provisions of the NVRA?
An extensive description of the Department’s NVRA enforcement activities can
be found on the Voting Section’s website:
In particular, significant NVRA decisions or settlements have been obtained by the Department in
litigation with the State of Tennessee (Sections 5 and 7 of the NVRA)
Cibola County, New Mexico (Section 8 of the NVRA), http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/sec_203/documents/cibola_stip_3.pdf;
the State of New York (Section 7 of the NVRA), http://www.justice.gov/crt/voting/nvra/nynvra_order.pdf.
- How can I contact the Department of Justice about the NVRA’s voter registration requirements?
As a general matter, the Department of Justice does not issue advisory opinions
concerning the statutes that it enforces. The Department will certainly consider
inquiries from State officials concerning the NVRA, however, in the hope of providing
assistance. Within the Department of Justice, the responsibility for NVRA enforcement
is committed to the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division. You may reach the
Voting Section at its toll-free telephone number, 800-253-3931.