New Report Shows Five States' Dramatic Increase in Voter Registrations in Social Services Agencies After Reforms

Release Date: 
October 28, 2009

New York — Dramatic increases in low-income voter registrations at public assistance agencies have occurred recently in five states that have taken steps to improve their compliance with a requirement of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), according to a new report by Demos, a non-partisan public policy and research center.

The new study, Toward an Equal Electorate: Five States' Gains Under the National Voter Registration Act, finds that agency-based voter registrations jumped anywhere from 22 percent to over 2,600 percent in North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri--states that have recently improved implementation of the 13 year-old voter registration law. An additional 125,000 low-income voters have registered at public assistance agencies prior to the November election under these efforts, most within the past several months.

Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) with two primary aims: increasing voter registration opportunities and ensuring the integrity of the voting process. Yet, while most states created effective programs for mail-in and Department of Motor Vehicles-based registration processes, many neglected the NVRA's Section 7 requirement that states offer voter registration in public assistance agencies.

 "Toward an Equal Electorate" documents the dramatic success experienced by the five states after taking steps' most cooperatively, but with Missouri under court order" to ensure that their low-income citizens have access to voter registration services.

"Research and field investigations by Demos and our partners have shown that many states across the nation are neglecting their responsibilities under the NVRA," said report author and Demos Senior Policy Analyst Scott Novakowski.  "Low-income citizens are much less likely than affluent citizens to be registered to vote, and agency-based registration, known as Section 7 of the NVRA, was intended to help reverse that trend. Unfortunately many states have been ignoring their duty under the law."

Report findings from the five states include:

--North Carolina:  After being presented with statistical data and evidence from field investigations indicating noncompliance, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, led by Executive Director Gary Bartlett acted quickly to put in place an effective re-implementation plan.  Since February 2007, North Carolina's public assistance agencies have registered over 63,000 voters--a six-fold increase in the average number of registrations per month compared to 2005-2006.

--Virginia:  Since initial implementation of the NVRA, registrations in Virginia's public assistance agencies have decreased by 87 percent and field investigations in early 2008 found that seven of nine offices visited did not have voter registration applications on-site.  After implementing reforms, registrations in Virginias Department of Social Services increased eight-fold over 2005-2006 for a total of over 9,600 registrations in a four month period.

--Michigan:  In early 2008, Michigan's Department of Human Services worked with Demos to design and implement a comprehensive Civic Engagement Initiative.  Since implementing a new computerized data collection system in March 2008, Michigan DHS offices have registered over 21,450 voters.

--Missouri:  In July 2008, Missouri's Department of Social Services was ordered by a federal judge to implement the NVRA in its offices.  In the six weeks since improved data collection began, Missouri's DSS offices have registered over 26,400 voters, an average of 17,600 per month.  Compared to an average of only 649 per month in 2005-2006, the changes in Missouri have led to an increase of 2,600 percent in the average number of registrations per month.--Pennsylvania:  NVRA performance has lagged in Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare (DPW) in recent years largely because of the increase in clients accessing benefits via phone, mail, or Internet and DPW's policy of not providing voter registration services to these "remote" clients.  Upon notification of the problem, officials from DPW and the Department of State worked with Demos to ensure that all clients--including those interacting remotely--are receiving the opportunity to register.  After implementing revised procedures, the average number of voter registrations from DPW each month has increased over 240 percent.

"The successes seen in these five states are a testament to what can be accomplished when state officials take seriously their responsibilities under the law," said Novakowski.  "States that are still not in full compliance with the NVRA are doing a great disservice to their citizens.  They should look to these states and work vigorously to adopt similar models."

 

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