Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”), also commonly known as the “Motor Voter Act”, in 1993, with the express purpose of making it easier for American citizens to register to vote, and to maintain their voter’s registration. Under the NVRA, the Federal Election Commission was instructed to give guidance to individual states in implementing the NVRA, and to develop a mail voter registration form for use in all states. Likewise, the NVRA gave the U.S. Department of Justice the authority to enforce the provisions of the NVRA as needed. The NVRA became effective on January 1, 1995.
The NVRA applies to 44 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining six states, i.e. Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, are exempt from the NVRA because they either had no voter’s registration requirements, or offered election-day registration services at polling places. Initially, several states failed to implement measures in order to comply with the NVRA prior to its effective date, and other states challenged the constitutionality of the NVRA. As a result, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a series of lawsuits against non-compliant states, which resulted in findings that the NVRA was constitutionally valid, and ordering non-compliant states to enact measures in order to comply with its mandates.
The main provisions of the NVRA require all states to establish and implement three different ways for Americans to register to vote. First, Section 5 of the NVRA requires that states provide an opportunity for people to register to vote whenever they apply for or renew their driver’s license. Upon receiving a completed voter’s registration form, the state’s department of motor vehicles, or its equivalent, must forward the form to the appropriate election official. Second, Section 7 the NVRA mandates that states provide voter’s registration forms, information, and assistance wherever people can apply for public assistance, and at all state-funded offices or facilities that primarily provide services to people with disabilities. Third, Section 6 of the NVRA allows the voter’s registration process to occur in each state by mailing in the national mail voter registration form developed by the Federal Election Commission. The goal of the NVRA, then, is to reach people who might not otherwise register to vote, and to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to register to vote.
Another important provision of the NVRA is found in Section 8. This section sets forth a number of rules that states must follow in processing, maintaining, and reporting their state voter registration lists. The many requirements in this section include accepting voter’s registration forms postmarked at least 30 days prior to a federal election as valid, notifying all applicants as to whether their voter’s registration application was accepted or rejected, permitting citizens who have moved to vote in some circumstances, even if they have not re-registered using a new address, maintaining accurate, current voter’s registration lists, and setting forth specific, nondiscriminatory procedures for removing deceased persons or former residents of a state from their voter’s registration lists.