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Motor Voter Law: Purpose, Summary, and Impact

Motor Voter Law: Purpose, Summary, and Impact

The Motor Voter Law or the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 aims at increasing opportunities of voter registration. Providing voter registration forms to driving license applicants is one such attempt. OpinionFront gives you an outline of this federal law.
Rujuta Patil
This was the percentage of the voting age population in 1996, the highest percentage of voter registration in any election since 1960.

Voting is recognized as a fundamental civil and political right by almost all democracies. It is an effective tool to deal with many social-ills like injustice and inequality. Every citizen or resident of a political region, despite his or her financial, racial, or religious background, becomes entitled to the right to vote at the stipulated age given by law. As voters determine their political representatives, a larger voter turnout indicates a healthier political setup.

To eliminate any blocks in the system of voter registration, a federal law was pushed for in the United States. At first, efforts to develop standards for national voter registration became unsuccessful. Attempts to introduce laws that would facilitate sending voter registration forms through mail to every household, keeping the forms with certain public offices, or voter registration on the election day, were all futile. There were laws enacted for the elderly, handicapped, and military personnel to ease their registration as voters. However, during the 1980s, the voter turnout for federal elections was still low. This is when Congressmen introduced the 'motor voter' bills, with the intention of increasing voter registration opportunities.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is also known as the Motor Voter Law. This law was enacted by the 103rd United States Congress. This Motor Voter Bill was signed into a law on 20th May 1993 by the then U.S. President Bill Clinton. However, the law came into effect from 1st January 1995. It has rightly expanded voting rights by requiring the state governments to encourage voter registration.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires every state to establish voter registration procedures by:
  1. Application made available simultaneously along with the driver's license application.
  2. Mail.
  3. Application in person. This can be at the assigned federal, state, or nongovernmental office, or at the applicant's residential registration site as provided by the state law.

Section 5 of the Act mentions that, in case the applicant fails to sign the voter registration application, the motor vehicle license application, or an application for the renewal of the license would serve as the application for voter registration too. This provision pertains to the federal elections.

Section 6 requires all states to use the mail voter registration application form prescribed by the Federal Election Commission.

Section 7 asks each state to designate agencies for voter registration, which include:
  1. State offices providing public assistance
  2. State or local government offices
  3. Federal and nongovernmental offices (on their accordance)
  4. Armed forces recruitment offices

Section 8 provides the following criteria for removal of names from eligible voter's list: death, criminal conviction, change in residence, mental incapacity, or voter request. Failure to cast a vote cannot be a reason for removal of the voter's name from the list.

Other provisions include the Federal Election Commission to submit a report regarding the impact of the Motor Voter Act on the administration of federal elections during the preceding two years, every state to designate a chief state election official, etc.

Exempted States
The following states have been exempted from the Motor Voter Law, if they have since 11th March 1993 not required their residents to register for federal elections, or have permitted voter registration on the election day for federal elections.

North Dakota: Residents can cast their vote in federal elections even without being registered as a voter.

Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming: In these states, voter registration on the day of federal elections is allowed.

The purpose behind enacting the National Voter Registration Act is as follows:
  1. To establish procedures that will increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for federal office.
  2. To make it possible for federal, state, and local governments to implement this sub-chapter in a manner that enhances the participation of eligible citizens as voters in elections for federal office.
  3. To protect the integrity of the electoral process.
  4. To ensure that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained.

This legislation is primarily aimed at enhancing voter enrollment for the federal elections. Establishing ways and standard procedures for achieving this aim involves active support of the state governments. Besides increasing the new voter base, the law also directs maintenance of the existing electoral rolls, wherein the states cannot remove any persons from the voter's list unless certain criteria are met.

The coming into effect of the Act completed 20 years in 2015. The Federal Election Commission was given the role of reporting the impact of this Act, biennially, to Congress. However, since 2002, this responsibility was transferred to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The impact assessment report for the period after the 2010 elections and through the presidential election of 2012 was submitted in 2013 by EAC. According to it, the number of registered voters in 2012 represents an increase of approximately 3.7 million voters since the 2008 presidential election cycle. As per the estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau, 87.4% American citizens of voting age were registered to vote in the 2012 elections.

However, there remain several loopholes in the effective implementation of the law. Several states initially were reluctant in executing their responsibilities, which resulted in lawsuits filed against them. Along with these cases that proved the constitutionality of the law, actions were also taken by private individuals. The states were then ordered to follow the requirements established by the Act.