FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION'S
REPORT TO THE CONGRESS
THE IMPACT OF THE NATIONAL VOTER REGISTRATION ACT OF 1993
ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF FEDERAL ELECTIONS
This document is a report to the United States Congress on the impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) on the administration of elections for federal office during the preceding two-year period, 1995 through 1996.
This second report is based on survey results from 43 States and the District of Columbia. Six (6) States are not included because they are exempt from the provisions of the Act. Vermont is not included because of State constitutional impediments that have delayed full implementation.
States reported a total of 142,995,856 registered voters nationwide for 1996, amounting to 72.77 % of the Voting Age Population (VAP). This is the highest percentage of voter registration since reliable records were first available in 1960.
The report also notes that the number of Americans actually voting in 1996 declined by over 5 percentage points from 1992 -- the first presidential election since 1972, when the franchise was extended to 18-21 year olds, that voter registration rose while turnout declined.
According to the highlights of the report, which covers the first two years in which the new law was in effect, during 1995 and 1996:
In summary, the report finds that voter registration in States covered by the NVRA rose in 1996 by 1.82 percentage points -- or some 3,390,000 people -- over 1992, the previous comparable election. It should be noted, however, that the NVRA was in effect for only 22 months or less in the covered States.
Highlights of this Report
The mail registration provisions of the NVRA caused relatively few problems for the States and accounted for nearly one third of all voter registration applications from 1995 through 1996. This general success of mail registration is traceable in part to the fact that 25 of the 43 States that responded to our survey had already implemented mail registration before the NVRA. Today, all 45 States covered by the NVRA have mail registration. Several of the States were, however, delayed in implementing it well past January of 1995 because of legislative, litigative, or printing problems. By the same token, all 45 States now accept the National voter registration form devised by the Federal Election Commission, as do several States exempt from the Act.
The motor vehicle provisions of the NVRA appeared to be the easiest for States to implement. This is due in large part to the fact that at least twenty-six (26) States reported that they had conducted some form of motor voter registration program prior to the passage of the NVRA. Motor voter agencies also yielded the highest volume of registration applications among the various agencies mandated by the NVRA, accounting for 33.1% (13,722,000) of the total number of registration applications in the United States during 1995 and 1996.
Figures provided by forty-one (41) States indicate that over 24,600 separate sites provided agency voter registration opportunities to their clientele during the period covered by this report. Applications received at all agency sites combined represented 11.07% of the total number of registration applications in the United States. Public assistance agencies accounted for 6.28% of this figure; agencies designated by the States accounted for 4.18%; disability service agencies accounted for .43%; and armed forces recruitment offices accounted for .18%.
States had some difficulty in implementing the provision at Section 7 (a)(3)(A) of the Act which requires States to designate offices other than those required by the Act to provide agency voter registration services. Four (4) States reported that they did not designate any agencies to participate in this program. Only twenty-one (21) of the forty-three (43) States responding to the survey reported designating more than one State agency to participate under this provision of the Act. Our survey responses reveal a wide variety of agencies selected by these 21 States.
The list maintenance provisions of the NVRA grant the States considerable latitude in the routine and systematic methods by which they may ensure the accuracy of their voter registration lists by removing the names of those who are no longer eligible. They also prohibit the States from removing names from the voter registration list merely for failure to vote or for moving within the registrar's jurisdiction. As one might expect, the 45 States covered by this report approached the rather technical and detailed problems of list maintenance quite differently and unevenly.
The fail-safe provisions of the NVRA allow States options on where and how registrants who have moved within the registrar's jurisdiction or who have inadvertently been placed on the inactive list may vote. And once again, the States pursued a variety of different approaches to this matter.
The most significant problems reported by the States tended to group into three broad categories. Accordingly, the FEC offers three core recommendations for improving the NVRA:
that the U.S. Postal Service (1) create a new class of mail for "official election material" that encompasses all mail items requisite to the NVRA and provide the most favorable reduced rates affordable for the first class treatment of such mailings; and (2) provide space in their postal lobbies free of charge to State and local election officials for voter registration material.