Should eligible voters be automatically registered to vote?

With a turnout that is usually low, especially for midterm congressional elections, many wonder whether implementing automatic voter registration wouldn’t be a way to encourage more people to go the polls

Rise of the Issue

In 2015, Oregon became the first state to pass automatic voter registration. 17 other states and the District of Columbia have since followed suit. The numbers show an uptick in voter registration: from nearly 10 percent in the District of Columbia to as much as 94 percent in Georgia. 

Supporters cite this as a reason to implement automatic voter registration more widely. Yet errors in the system – like California who reported 100,000 errors a year after activating the system – have caused others to question whether AVR is the way to go.

Issue Timeline


Congress Passes Voting Rights Act

The legislation prohibited states from generally using discriminatory voting practices – whether directly or indirectly – and specifically outlaws certain practices such as literacy tests.


Congress Passes National Voter Registration Act

Following historically low rates of voter registration, Congress passed “Motor Voter”, which requires states to allow people to register to vote when they apply for their drivers’ license.


Congress Passes Help America Vote Act

The legislation instructs states to reform their voter laws, including the creation of statewide voter registration lists, as well as provisional ballots so eligible voters whose names are not on the roll of registered voters are not refused.


Oregon Passes Automatic Voter Registration

The first state to implement AVR saw a 7 percent point increase in general voter registration between 2012 and 2016. In communities of color, voter registration increased by 26 percent points between December 2015 and January 2017.


California DMV Reveals 100,000 Errors

After implementing their automatic voter registration, the California DMV identified 100,000 errors, including people being registered to the wrong party.

Micro Issues



Opponents argue automatic registration opens the door to more non-citizens voting, while supporters say that the amount of votes accidentally allowed to non-citizens is negligible – between 0.0003 and 0.001 percent.


Voter Turnout

While supporters believe that processes like automatic voter registration increase voter turnout because it makes things easier for voters, opponents believe that the burdensome process of registering is a way to guarantee that those who vote are doing it conscientiously.


Indirect Discrimination

The two sides differ on whether voter registration requirements disproportionately or intentionally affect people of color and low-income communities.

Pro Arguments


Automatic registration improves voter turnout.

If people do not have to go through the process of registering prior to Election Day, they are more likely to cast their vote.


There could be more votes from groups that are typically underrepresented.

Historically underrepresented groups such as young people and people of color would be more likely to vote if their registration was automatic.


The outcome would reflect a larger part of society.

With automatic registration and higher voter turnout, more people would make their will known. Reflecting the will of society at large is a key aspect of democracy.


Automatic registration improves maintenance of registration rolls.

If voter registration is linked to routine state agency functions, it would help states keep more accurate and up to date information on eligible voters.


The burden of checking voter eligibility is on the authorities.

Automatic voter registration means the authority will check whether people are eligible to vote, simplifying the process for the voter.

Con Arguments


Federal voter registration forms do not ask for proof of citizenship.

In California, at least one non-citizen obtained the right to vote through the automatic registration process after it was implemented in 2018.


It leaves the process vulnerable to errors.

In previous iterations of automatic voter registration, some states, like California, saw quite a large margin of error.


Voting is a right and a privilege that should be done conscientiously.

Some believe that allowing citizens to vote without the difficult process of first seeking to register is a gateway to letting voters who are not truly interested or informed, to cast their vote.


Voting is a choice, not an obligation.

Having the right to vote is part of living in a democracy, but no one is obligated to vote in the United States, so they also shouldn’t be forced to register either.


It increases the burden for those who do not wish to register.

Automatic voter registration turns an “opt in” into an “opt out” system – meaning those who wish not to be registered now have to actively make that known.