While state legislatures, Congress and the courts affect voting, there is one office which has inordinate power in determining voter participation: state-level secretaries of state. In 37 states, the secretary of state is the chief election officer, often with the power to interpret election laws, determine acceptable forms of ID, manage voter registration systems, oversee early vote and other alternative voting vehicles, as well as determine election locations, hours, processes and machines.
These responsibilities give secretaries of state considerable control over whether more people will vote or fewer will vote. Despite this power, the media and, in turn, the public has paid little attention to this office over the years. At the same time voters do not fully understand the function and power of the office.
There is an average of a 2.5% “under-vote” in ballots cast for the office relative to the top of the ballot. The disparity between voter information about the office and lack of participation in determining who holds the office on the one hand and power vested in the office on the other, presents a critical threat to American democracy.
Nonpartisan GOTV Campaigns
Automatic Voter Registration
What is Automatic Voter Registration?
Automatic Voter Registration makes voting easier and increases turnout by eliminating the burden on individual voters to find out when, where and how to register to vote for each election.
With Automatic Voter Registration, every eligible voter is automatically registered when they get a driver’s license. Eligible citizens who already have driver's licenses are also automatically registered to vote. If someone does not want to register to vote, they simply opt-out. Automatic Voter Registration is different from "motor-voter" laws, which put the burden on voters to opt-into registration.
Why Automatic Voter Registration?
More than 155 million Americans voted in the 2020 election, which means about one-in-three eligible voters, or over 76 million people, sat out the election. An Ipsos survey found that 29% of eligible voters who didn’t vote said they didn’t cast a ballot because they weren’t registered. That means 22 million people didn’t vote simply because they weren’t registered. To give some context on how big that number is, in the past six presidential elections, the candidates were separated by an average of less than 4.7 million votes nationally.
In short, putting the burden on individuals to find out when, where and how to register for each election is leaving a lot of our democracy at home. By making registration automatic and universal, we have the potential to bring new – disproportionately minority and young – voting power to bear in our elections.
And momentum is growing to tap into this power. As of January 2022, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted or implemented automatic voter registration. When Nevada implemented their voter-passed automatic voter registration system in 2020, about 750,000 eligible but previously unregistered Nevadans were automatically registered to vote. Nearly 1.4 million Nevadans then voted in the November election, setting a state record.