One Million New Voters

In 1993, President Clinton signed a federal law to ensure that all Americans had the opportunity to register to vote. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) mandated not only that Americans have a chance to register to vote when they get a driver's license, but also when they visit public assistance agencies so that Americans from all walks of life have a voice in the political process. Over time, though, many states came to ignore this latter provision of the NVRA (Section 7) -- leading to a dramatic decline of public agency registrations within 10 years of initial implementation.

More recently, increasing numbers of Americans have turned to public assistance in the face of the economic downturn. The number of Food Stamp (formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP) recipients, for instance, hit 45.8 million people in August 2011, or 1 in every 7 residents of America. Paired with the decline in NVRA implementation, this formula ensured that the voices of a growing number of Americans weren't being heard. 

But now that is changing, as a result of efforts by Demos and other groups to ensure full compliance with the NVRA. For the past several years, Demos and its partners have been working with state officials to properly implement Section 7. Litigation and cooperative work with states to improve agency procedures and training of personnel have been followed immediately by a dramatic increase in voter registration applications submitted to public assistance agencies.

As of last month, at least a million low-income Americans in five states have submitted a voter registration application as a direct result of our NVRA work -- moving America a million voices closer to a democracy that is representative of its people.

We remain far from the day when the NVRA realizes its full potential -- many states still don't fully enforce the law -- but we have taken dramatic steps in the right direction in the past few years.

The lesson of this work is clear: Full implementation of the NVRA is a proven and effective way to ensure that all eligible Americans have an opportunity to have their voices heard in the political process.