Voter registration (or enrollment) is the requirement that a person otherwise eligible to vote register (or enroll) on an electoral roll before they will be entitled or permitted to vote. Such enrollment may be automatic or may require application being made by the eligible voter. The rules governing registration vary between jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions have "election day registration" and others do not require registration, or may require production of evidence of entitlement to vote at time of voting. In some jurisdictions registration by those of voting age is compulsory, while in most it is optional. In jurisdictions where registration is voluntary, an effort may be made to encourage persons otherwise eligible to vote to register, in what is called as a voter registration drive.
Registered persons may need to re-register or update their registration if they change residence or other relevant information. In some jurisdictions, when a person registers a change of residence with a government agency, say, for a driver's license, the government agency may forward the information to the electoral agency to automatically update the voter registration information.
Even in countries where registration is the individual's responsibility, many reformers, seeking to maximize voter turnout, argue for a wider availability of the required forms, or more ease of process by having more places where they can register. The United States, for example, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter Law") and similar laws require states to offer voter registration at motor vehicle departments (driver's license offices) as well as disability centers, public schools, and public libraries, in order to offer more access to the system. State authorities are also required to accept mail-in voter registrations. Many jurisdictions also offer online registrations.
Same-day voter registration or Election Day registration
In the United States, states generally require voter registration. Some U.S. states do not require advance registration, instead allowing voters to register when they arrive at the polls, in what is called same day registration or election day registration. North Dakota is the only state which has no registration requirement.
Same-day registration (SDR) has been linked to higher voter turn-out, with SDR states reporting average turn-out of 71% in the 2012 United States Presidential election, well above the average voter turn-out rate of 59% for non-SDR states.
Effects and controversy
Historically in the United States, the southern states of the former Confederacy passed new constitutions and laws at the turn of the century that created barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and complicated record keeping requirements. In practice, in their system of Jim Crow, these elements were used to disenfranchise most African Americans and many poor whites from voting, excluding thousands of people in each state from the political system. The minority of white Democrats in these states controlled the political process and elections, gaining outsize power locally and in Congress as the Solid South. The states maintained such exclusion of most African Americans for more than 60 years. Other minority groups have also been discriminated against by other states at various times in voter registration practices, such as Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and other language minorities.
Because of this history, voter registration laws and practices in the United States have been closely scrutinized by interest groups and the federal government, especially following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It authorized federal oversight of jurisdictions with a history of under-representation of certain portions of their populations in voting. Such laws are often controversial. Some advocate for their abolition, while others argue that the laws should be reformed, for instance: to allow voters to register on the day of the election. Several US states - Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming - have adopted this approach, called Election Day Registration. For the 2012 election year, California joined this list.
Registration of voters internationally
Systems of voter registration vary widely from country to country, and sometimes among lower jurisdictions, such as states or provinces. In some nations, voters are automatically added to the rolls when they reach legal voting age. In others, potential voters are required to apply to be added to the rolls.
The Australian Electoral Commission maintains Australia's federal electoral roll. Each state also has its own electoral commission or office, but voters need to register only with the AEC, which shares the registration details with the relevant state electoral commission. Voter registration is mandatory for all citizens 18 years of age or above. The AEC monitors house and apartment sales and sends a reminder (and the forms) to new residents if they have moved to another electorate, making compliance with the law easier.
In Canada, the task of enumeration was handled until 1992 by the relevant elections bureau, such as Elections Canada for the federal level. The task was delegated to temporary employees from the public, who were charged with going to each residence in assigned areas to determine the eligible voters to be recorded for a publicly displayed list for each election. The Parliament discontinued this system for fiscal reasons in the 1990s in favour of an opt-in process, by which voters mark their consent to be added the national voters list, or register, on their annual income tax returns. Although this allows the list to be updated annually, complaints are registered that there are excessive numbers of omissions of residents, which needlessly complicates voting for the public and is contributing to a serious decline in the percentage of the population who vote.
- provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars
- Canada Revenue Agency
- Citizenship and Immigration Canada
- provincial and territorial vital statistics registrars, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent lists of electors (e.g. British Columbia and Quebec)
- information supplied by electors when they register to vote or revise their information during and between federal electoral events
- proven electoral lists from other Canadian jurisdictions
Same-day registration is also permitted.
Since 2012, voter registration in Chile is automatic. It is based on a database by the Civil Registry Office of Chileans and resident foreigners in possession of an identity card number, which is unique for each individual when issues and is never re-used after a person's death. All Chileans and eligible foreigners are added automatically to the electoral roll at age 17 and placed on an electoral constituency based on their last reported address with the Office. That address, known as "electoral domicile," can be different from a person's living address, if so desired. The electoral roll may contain a substantial number of persons residing abroad. Residents abroad are not allowed to vote in Chilean elections.
All citizens and residents are included in the national register. Each person is assigned a personal identification number that includes the person's date of birth and is divisible by 11.
All citizens and residents of Denmark are included in the national register, Det Centrale Personregister. Each person is assigned a personal number of ten digits, which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system, official record of residence, and other purposes. All eligible voters receive a card in the mail before each election which shows the date, time and local polling place; it may only be presented at the designated local polling station. Only citizens may vote in national elections, while long-time residents may vote in local and regional elections. Permanent address within Denmark is required in order to vote. Voting is voluntary.
Voter registration in Finland is automatic and based on the national population register. Each citizen is assigned a identification number at birth. Permanent residents are recorded in this register even if they are not citizens, and their citizenship status is indicated in the register. People in the register are legally obliged to notify the register keeper of changes of address. Changing the address in the register automatically notifies all other public bodies (for example the tax district for local taxation, the social security authorities, the conscription authorities) and certain trusted private ones (e.g. banks and insurance companies), making the process of moving residence very simple. Close to election time, the government mails a notification to registered persons informing them of the election and where and when to cast their votes. Only citizens may vote in national elections, but all residents may vote in local elections.
All permanent residents of Germany are required to register their place of residence (or the fact that they are homeless) with local government. Citizens who will be 18 or older on the day of voting will automatically receive a notification card in the mail some weeks before any election in which they are eligible to vote: for local elections, resident citizens of other EU countries will also receive these cards and may vote. For European elections, citizens of other EU countries have to register separately. Polling places have lists of all eligible voters resident in the neighborhood served by the particular station; the voter's notification card (or photo ID such as an identity card, passport or driving license, if the notification card is not at hand) is checked against these lists before individuals receive a ballot. Voting is not compulsory.
In Hong Kong all permanent residents who are above 18 years of age and do not suffer from a mental illness can register as voters. Imprisoned people can also register and vote since the laws prohibiting them from voting was ruled unconstitutional in 2009 and are able to vote since mid-2010 as the electoral roll is updated annually. The registration process is voluntary. In 2002 around 1.6 million permanent residents did not register.
All citizens of Iceland are registered in a central database at birth, which is maintained by Registers Iceland. They do not need to register separately to vote.
The Government of India conducts a revision of the voters list every 5 years. An additional summary revision is conducted every year. Apart from this, citizens can request their inclusion in the voters list by applying through Form 6. If the application is valid, the applicant's name will get included in the list. At 18 years old, completed person should be eligible for voter list (for Indian citizens only).
In Italy, all municipalities have a registry of residents and a registry of eligible voters. This is revised every six months and whenever there is an election. The registry of eligible voters can be viewed by anyone to ensure maximum transparency in the electoral process. All citizens aged 18 or more on the election day are automatically registered to vote.
Mexico has a general electoral census. Any citizen of age 18 or greater must go to an electoral office in order be registered into the electoral census. Citizens receive a voting card (credencial de elector con fotografía), issued by the National Electoral Institute (INE) (from 1990 until 4/2014 it was called Federal Electoral Institute) that must be shown to vote in any election. The voting card also serves as a national identity document.
All citizens and residents of Norway are included in the national register, Folkeregisteret, where each person is assigned a personal number of eleven digits which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system and other purposes, and it is maintained by the tax authorities. All eligible voters receive a card in the mail before each election which shows the date, time and local polling place. Only citizens may vote in national elections, while longtime residents may vote in local and regional elections. Voting is not compulsory.
All citizens of Peru between 18 and 70 years are registered to vote through the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status, except all members of the police and the armed forces, who are not allowed to participate in elections. For all citizens in the country and abroad voting is mandatory, unless legally exempted. Failing to vote in the election of 7 Oct 2018 was fined with S/ 83, with 50% or 75% discount for areas with poverty or extreme poverty, and this must be paid to get access to many public services.
There is no formal process for voter registration for South Korean citizens. All citizens will be automatically listed in the voters' list upon each election date. A domestic in-absentee vote was ceased and citizens can visit any residents' center (주민센터) and vote in advance during the weekend before the actual election date.
However, citizens either temporary visiting or permanently residing abroad must register for an overseas in-absentee ballot in order to vote. Voting can be done in Korean overseas missions.
No registration is required: all Spanish citizens of voting age are listed in the electoral roll through the National Statistics Institute's Electoral Census Office. Only citizens may vote in national and regional elections, while foreign residents may vote in local elections upon a reciprocity basis. Citizens from other European Union countries may also vote in European elections. Certain convicted felons are disenfranchised while serving their sentences, but their voting rights are automatically restored afterwards without exception. Most prisoners are not disenfranchised and can vote by mail as absentees.
All eligible voters receive a letter in the mail to their registered address prior to election Sunday showing the date, time and local polling place, which is almost invariably the nearest school or the town hall in very small towns without a school. Polling may also be done at a Spanish diplomatic mission if residing overseas. All absentee and early voting ballots are sent physically to the registered local polling station for counting and double checking the voter's identity with the electoral roll eliminating any risk of double voting. Government-issued ID is required to vote. Voting is not compulsory.
Voter registration in Sweden is automatic and based on the national population register, Folkbokföringsregistret, administered by the Swedish Tax Agency, where all citizens and residents of Sweden are included. Each person is assigned a ten digit national identification number, which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system, public insurance, official record of residence, and other purposes. Permanent residents shall be recorded in this register even if they are not citizens but enjoy right of residence, and their citizenship status is indicated in the register. Changing the address in the central register automatically notifies all other public bodies (for example the tax district for local taxation, the social security authorities, the conscription authorities) and certain trusted private ones (e.g. banks and insurance companies), making the administration of a move of residence very simple.
All eligible voters receive a letter in the mail to their registered address of 30 days prior to election day, in Sweden or abroad, which shows the date, time and local polling place, always on a Sunday, normally in September each 4 years. Polling may also be done anywhere in the country at various early voting stations determined by the local Election Committee or at a Swedish Diplomatic mission, all to facilitate for the voters. To vote in person a recognized photo identity document is required, or a confirmation by someone with proper identification. The voting card letter is not compulsory to bring as it is possible to print a copy of it, but it reduces waiting time. For people with difficulties to move, like elderly, hospitalized or imprisoned, there are ambulant voting stations and the possibility to vote as an absentee through a proxy, that can be a family member, caretaker, prison guard or other person in a normal relationship with the voter. Those living on the country-side can vote with their postman and those staying abroad are allowed to vote through mail with the material provided by a diplomatic mission. Elections through Internet are not yet implemented, although most other registry related services are available, like leaving a tax return. The Local Election Committee, that manages the electoral roll and oversees safe vote counting and reporting, is appointed by each County Administrative Board and all work is transparent, as Swedish authorities by default must follow the principle of transparency, but the actual vote of each individual is kept secret. All absentee and early voting ballots are sent physically to the registered local polling station for counting and double checking the voter's identity with the electoral roll eliminating any risk of double voting.
Only Swedish citizens being 18 years old on the election day and living in Sweden may vote in all public elections. Registered residents may vote in local and regional elections. Swedish citizens that are resident abroad have the right to vote in Riksdag and EU elections only. To maintain a record in the electoral roll as an expatriate, one needs to refresh the registration within 10 years; a vote counts as a valid refresh. In the elections for political members of the Church Board (Parochial church council), similar elections are held, but only members of the Church of Sweden above 16 years of age have suffrage. Universal egalitarian voting rights are protected by the constitution; all voting is voluntary and free of charge, but often seen as a duty, with voter turnout between 80 and 90% in the last decades. It is possible to change an early vote, on the election day, thus scrapping a previously sent vote. By Swedish law, the elections are direct and proportional, which means that the actual votes are reflected in each party's share of the 349 of representatives in the Riksdag, but each individual enter according to amount of personal votes. Any mismatch between districts that could skew the proportion is managed through the Leveling seats, rendering no votes powerless if placed on a party that can enter the parliament. The eligibility to the governing bodies follow the same limitations as for the voting. Through the use of blank (1,09% in 2010 Parliament elections) and unlocked ballots to allow total democracy and voting for unregistered parties, people that were not even running for office have been elected to municipal boards when their name has been handwritten on ballots raising controversy, thus the rules are being changed to disqualify ballots for a person that does not approve or is disapproved by the party.
All citizens of Taiwan are registered in a national database at birth, which is maintained by the Household Registration Office and the Central Election Commission of Taiwan. Taiwanese citizens do not need to register separately to vote, whereas all citizens above twenty years old will be automatically informed by postal mail from the government few weeks before every public election.
In the UK voter registration is compulsory, but the requirement to register is rarely enforced. The current system of registration in the United Kingdom (UK), introduced by the Labour government, is known as rolling registration. Electors can register with a local authority at any time of the year. This replaced the twice-yearly census of electors, which often disenfranchised those who had moved during the interval between censuses.
Across the country, the registration of electors is still technically the responsibility of the head of household, a concept which some consider to be anachronistic in modern society. This current system is controversial, as it is possible for one person to delete persons who live with them from the electoral roll. As of January 2012, mandatory individual registration, pursuant to the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, was anticipated.
A feasibility study for electronic individual voter registration (IVR), based on the experience of other nations, was undertaken by EURIM (Information Society Alliance) in 2010. The final report was released in 2011. According to the House of Commons Hansard from 16 January 2012, the IVR initiative is yet to be implemented in the UK. There was discussion of data from Northern Ireland, where individual voter registration levels significantly decreased following the introduction of an IVR policy.
In an experiment in Northern Ireland using personal identifiers, such as National Insurance numbers and signatures, the number of registered electors fell by some ten thousand. It was also understood that the new process may have resulted in fictitious voters being dropped from rolls.
Registration is mandatory pursuant to section 23 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 (No. 341) and violators are liable on summary conviction and face a maximum fine of £1,000. Voters must be on the electoral roll in order to vote in national, local or European elections. A fixed address is required in order for an individual to vote in an election. To provide for persons who are transient, if an individual lacking a fixed address wants to vote, they may register by filling in a 'Declaration of local connection' form. This establishes a connection to the area based on the last fixed address someone had, or the place where they spend a substantial amount of their time (e.g. a homeless shelter).
A voting card is sent to each registrant shortly before any elections. The individual does not need to take the card to the polling station, instead it serves to remind individuals of the details they had provided to the electoral register.
Voter registration in the United States takes place at the county level, and is a prerequisite to voting at federal, state and local elections. The only exception is North Dakota, although North Dakota law allows cities to register voters for city elections.
A 2012 study by The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that 24% of the voting-eligible population in the United States are not registered to vote, a percentage that represents "at least 51 million eligible U.S. citizens." Numerous states had a history of creating barriers to voter registration through a variety of fees, literacy or comprehension tests, and record-keeping requirements that in practice discriminated against racial or ethnic minorities, language minorities, and other groups. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 forbade such abuses and authorized federal oversight in jurisdictions of historic under-representation of certain groups. States continue to develop new practices that may discriminate against certain populations. By August 2016, federal rulings in five cases have overturned all or parts of voter registration or voter ID laws in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and North Dakota that were found to place undue burden on minorities and other groups among voters. The states are required to offer alternatives for the November 2016 elections; many of these cases are expected to reach the US Supreme Court for additional hearings.
While voters traditionally had to register at government offices by a certain period before an election, in the mid-1990s, the federal government made efforts to simplify registration procedures to improve access and increase turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the "Motor Voter" law) required state governments to either provide uniform opt-in registration services through drivers' license registration centers, disability centers, schools, libraries, and mail-in registration, or to allow voter registration on Election Day, where voters can register at polling places immediately prior to voting. From 1 January 2016, Oregon was the first state to adopt a fully automatic (opt-out) voter registration system as part of the process of issuing driver licenses and ID cards. By April 2016 three more states - California, West Virginia, and Vermont - followed suit, and in May 2016 Connecticut implemented it administratively rather than by legislation, bringing the number of states with automatic voter registration to five. Alaskan voters approved Measure 1 during the 8 November 2016 general election, allowing residents the ability to register to vote when applying annually for the state's Permanent Dividend Fund. Voter approval of Measure 1 made Alaska the first state to implement automatic (opt-in) voter registration via ballot initiative and the sixth state to implement automatic registration by any means including passing legislation. Several more states have drafted legislation proposing automatic registration.
Political parties and other organizations sometimes hold voter registration drives, organized efforts to register groups of new voters.
- Biometric voter registration
- Declare Yourself – Declare Yourself was a non-partisan, nationwide campaign to encourage every 18-year-old in the United States to register and vote in the 2008 elections.
- Electoral Administration Act 2006
- Electoral fraud
- HAVA: The Help America Vote Act of 2002
- National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (aka the "Motor Voter" act)
- Rock the Vote – American youth voter registration and engagement organization
- The Voter Participation Center - A non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to increasing voter registration among groups that typically lean Democratic, including unmarried women, people of color, and young people.
- Voter ID laws
- Voter registration drive
- Timpe, Brenden (14 March 2013). "New Report: Higher Voter Turnout Linked to SDR". Demos (U.S. think tank). Retrieved 29 May 2013.
- For the U.S, see Julianna Pacheco and Eric Plutzer, "How State Electoral Institutions Influence the Electoral Participation of Young Citizens", Department of Political Science, Penn State University, 2007, i + 18 pp.
- "Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on 10 June 2010. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "LEY-18556 01-OCT-1986 MINISTERIO DEL INTERIOR - Ley Chile - Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional". leychile.cl. 1 October 1986. Archived from the original on 7 April 2012.
- "Folketing (Parliamentary) Elections Act" (PDF). Ministry of Social Affairs and the Interior. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
- "Right to Vote and Compilation of the voting register". Vaalit. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
- Legislative Council. "Paragraph 9" (PDF). Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "FAQ: Elections in Israel." Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- Making electoral operations public ( ... ) gives a supervisory role and participation to the candidate, the party representatives and, albeit in a milder form, the same voters: Buonomo, Giampiero (2000). "Elezioni contestate, analisi voto per voto sulla volontà dell'elettore". Diritto&Giustizia edizione online. Archived from the original on 24 March 2016. – via Questia (subscription required)
- Valgloven §2, (Norwegian.) "Stemmerett" means right to vote while "stemmeplikt" means that voting is compulsory.
- Peru: voting is obligatory
- The Swedish electoral system
- "Electoral register". ico.org.uk. 20 May 2016. Archived from the original on 27 April 2015.
- Commons, The Committee Office, House of. "House of Commons - Voter engagement in the UK: follow up - Political and Constitutional Reform". publications.parliament.uk. Archived from the original on 26 October 2016.
- "Individual voter ID plan brought forward to 2014". BBC News. 15 September 2010.
- EURIM (May 2011). "INDIVIDUAL VOTER REGISTRATION – LESSONS FROM OVERSEAS" (PDF). Information Governance Individual Voter Registration Subgroup Status Report. EURIM (Information Society Alliance). Retrieved 9 June 2012.
- Staff (16 January 2012). "Daily Hansard – Debate 16 Jan 2012 : Column 451". parliament.co.uk. Parliament. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
- The Electoral Commission. "No fixed address". Archived from the original on 6 August 2010. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- The Electoral Commission. "Voting in person". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "The Voter's Self Defense System". Vote Smart. Archived from the original on 8 November 2016.
- Secretary of State North Dakota. "Voter Registration in North Dakota". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade" (PDF). The Pew Charitable Trusts. February 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- "Make It Easy: The Case for Automatic Registration". Democracy. 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- Ariane de Vogue, "Voting challenges head toward the Supreme Court: 4 cases to watch" Archived 25 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine, CNN, 19 July 2016; accessed 30 July 2016
- "Voter ID Laws Take a Beating in U.S. Courts", New York Times, 30 July 2016, p. 1
- Rober Barnes (1 August 2016). "Federal judge blocks N. Dakota's voter-ID law, calling it unfair to Native Americans". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2 August 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
- "Oregon Secretary of State: Oregon Motor Voter Act FAQ". sos.oregon.gov. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016.
- "Automatic Voter Registration". Brennan Center for Justice. 1 April 2016. Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
- "Shumlin signs into law automatic voter registration". Vermont Business Magazine. 28 April 2016. Archived from the original on 29 April 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
- Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott (7 March 2016). "Proper Filing Letter" (PDF). Alaska Division of Elections. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 January 2017. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "Unofficial Results - November 8, 2016 General Election" (PDF). Alaska Division of Elections. 23 November 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- "Automatic Voter Registration". Brennan Center for Justice. Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
- "Declare Yourself.com". Archived from the original on 14 October 2009. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
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Specific United States voter registration projects
- LiftEveryVote.net - Fair and Secure Elections via Automatic Voter Registration
- Vote.org – Simple online tool to help citizens register in under 2 minutes.
- Online: Arizona
- Oregon Bus Project's Building Votes program (a model for peer-to-peer voter registration drives)
- Overseas Vote Foundation – Online voter registration and ballot request tools for U.S. civilian voters living overseas and for military voters and their dependents stationed overseas
- Register Online: Washington
- Register to vote with Rock the Vote's guided online form. (USA)
- Voter Registration – registration by state, general voter registration information.