Federal Voter Registration Requirements

Jill Shelley
Principal Research Analyst

Jessa Farmer
Senior Research Analyst

Voting Rights Act

Federal Voting Rights Act law, at 42 U.S. Code §1971, includes this: “All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, parish, township, school district, municipality, or other territorial subdivision, shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; any constitution, law, custom, usage, or regulation of any State or Territory, or by or under its authority, to the contrary notwithstanding. . . . No person acting under color of law shall[,] in determining whether any individual is qualified under State law or laws to vote in any election, apply any standard, practice, or procedure different from the standards, practices, or procedures applied under such law or laws to other individuals within the same county, parish, or similar political subdivision who have been found by State officials to be qualified to vote.”

National Voter Registration Act

Various sections of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (also known as the “NVRA” or “motor voter law”) set forth certain voter registration requirements with respect to elections for federal office. It was enacted as Public Law 103-31 and added to the code as 42 U.S. Code § 1973gg-1 et seq.

  • Section 5 of the NVRA requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at state motor vehicle agencies by requiring any application for a driver’s license or nondriver’s identification card to serve as a voter registration application unless the applicant fails to sign the registration application.
  • Section 6 of the NVRA requires states to offer voter registration opportunities by mail-in application. The form must meet criteria of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
  • Section 7 of the NVRA requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at certain state and local offices, including public assistance and disability offices. Applications, assistance with that application if the applicant desires assistance, and accepting registrations for transmittal to election officials must be offered.
  • Section 8 of the NVRA requires states to implement procedures to maintain accurate and current voter registration lists. Those procedures must be uniform, nondiscriminatory, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Help America Vote Act

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, Public Law 107-252, among other things, established the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of federal elections and to otherwise provide assistance with the administration of certain federal election laws and programs, and it established minimum election administration standards for states and units of local government with responsibility for the administration of federal elections.

HAVA Section 303, codified at 52 U.S. Code § 21083, requires “a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered at the State level that contains the name and registration information of every legally registered voter in the State and assigns a unique identifier to each legally registered voter in the State.” It also requires “immediate electronic access” to the list by any election official in the state, including any local election official, security measures to be taken to protect the integrity of the list, and maintenance of the list (as further described in the Briefing Book article “Voter List Maintenance”).

HAVA Section 903 provides for criminal penalties for those who knowingly and willfully give false information in registering or voting, or conspire with another to do so, and for those who commit fraud or knowingly make a false statement with respect to the naturalization, citizenry, or alien registry of a voter.

Information about moneys distributed to the State under HAVA and the use of those moneys is provided in the KLRD memorandum “Help America Vote Act State Expenditures” in the Elections and Ethics policy area section of the KLRD website.

Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA)

The UOCAVA (Public Law 99-410, 52 U.S. Code § 20301 et seq.), enacted in 1986 and as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (“MOVE Act”), a subtitle of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111-84), requires that the states and territories allow members of the U.S. uniformed services and the merchant marine, members of their families, and American citizens living abroad to register and vote absentee in elections for federal office. The U.S. Department of Justice states the portions of the UOCAVA regarding registration require state officials to:

  • Provide UOCAVA voters with an option to request and receive voter registration and absentee ballot applications by electronic transmissions; and
  • Accept otherwise valid voter registration applications without regard to state notarization requirements, or restrictions on paper type or envelope type.

UOCAVA provisions also address electronic submission of ballots, transmitting ballots no later than 45 days before a federal election, allowing UOCAVA voters to track the receipt of their absentee ballots through a free access system, and protecting the security and privacy of UOCAVA votes and voters.

HAVA provisions in Section 706 prohibit rejection of a UOCAVA application for registration “submitted by an absent uniformed services voter during a year on the grounds that the voter submitted the application before the first date on which the State otherwise accepts or processes such applications for that year.”