Voter registration

Voter registration or enrollment is automatic in most advanced industrial nations, most of which are democracies, but is a requirement in many countries (including some democracies such as the United States and the United Kingdom) before a person is entitled or permitted to vote in elections. The rules governing registration vary between jurisdictions, and involve requirements that must be met and practices that must be followed before a citizen and resident is enrolled on an electoral roll. In some jurisdictions registration by those of voting age is compulsory, while in most it is merely voluntary. 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.

In some countries, people eligible to vote must "opt in" to be permitted to participate in voting, generally by filling out a specific form and submitting the form to the relevant electoral agency. They often need to re-register if they change residence across jurisdictional or divisional boundaries. In other cases, when a person registers their residence with a government agency, say, for a driver's license, there may be automatic voter registration at the same time by the government if the citizen is of voting age.

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 one may register. The United States Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter Law") and similar laws, which required 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.[1]

Effects and controversy

Registration laws making it harder for voters to register correlate strongly with lower percentages of people turning out to vote where voting is voluntary.[2]

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 administers Australia's federal electoral roll. Each state also has its own electoral commission or office, but voters need register only with the AEC, which shares the registration details with the relevant state electoral commission. In Australia registration is called "enrolment".

Voter registration is mandatory for all citizens 18 years of age or above. An individual has 8 weeks after turning 18 to register but may register at any time with no penalty being enforced for failure to register. Similarly, if a change of address causes an individual to move to another electorate (Electoral Division), they are legally obliged to notify the Electoral Commission within 8 weeks. In Australia, details of house and apartment sales are in the public domain. The Electoral Commission monitors these and sends a reminder (and the forms) to new residents if they have moved to another electorate, making compliance with the law much easier.

Periodically the Electoral Commission conducts door-to-door and postal campaigns to try to ensure that all eligible persons are registered in the correct electorate.

The registration covers federal, state and local voter registration. In Australia it is a legal offence to fail to vote (or, at the very least, attend a polling station and have one's name crossed off the roll) at any federal or state election, punishable by a nominal fine. The amount varies between federal and state elections. (The fine for not voting is currently A$20.00 in Victoria. This figure is indexed at the beginning of every financial year.) Usually people are issued with warnings when it is found that they have not voted, and they are given an opportunity to show cause. Acceptable reasons for not voting may include being in the accident department of a hospital, being ill (requires confirmation), being out of the country on election day, religious objections, being incarcerated, etc. "I forgot" is not considered acceptable and will incur a fine. Section 245 of the Electoral Act provides that if an elector who has been asked the "true reason" for his failure to vote states that he did not do so because it was against his religion, this statement shall be regarded as conclusive, and no further action will be taken.

Traditionally voters cannot register within three weeks of an election. In 2004 the Howard government passed legislation that prevents registration after 8 pm on the day that the writs are issued (this can be up to 10 days after the election has been announced).[3] This legislation was considered controversial by some Australians who contended it disenfranchised first-time voters or those who have forgotten to re-register. The law was repealed just before the 2010 federal election, when advocacy group GetUp! won a High Court decision deeming the changes unconstitutional.[4]


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.

The Register is also updated using the following sources:[5]

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.[6]

Czech Republic

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.[7]


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.

Hong Kong

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.[8]


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.


In Israel, all citizens who are 18 years of age or older on election day are automatically registered to vote.[9]


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 insure maximum transparency in the electoral process.[10] All citizens aged 18 or more on the election day are automatically registered to vote.


Voter ID card from Mexico.

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.[11]



Main article: Voting in Switzerland

All citizens and residents of Switzerland are required to register with the municipal authorities at their place of residence. Voter registration is automatic for citizens; the government sends out ballots by mail a few weeks before an election or referendum.

United Kingdom

In the UK voter registration is compulsory,[12] but the requirement to register is rarely enforced.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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).[17]

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.[18]

United States

A group of African-American children gather around a sign and booth to register voters. Early 1960s.

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.[19][20]

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."[21][22] 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.[23][24][25] 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 January 1, 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.[26] 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.[27][28] Several more states have since drafted legislation proposing automatic registration.[29]

Political parties and other organizations sometimes hold voter registration drives, organized efforts to register groups of new voters.From January 1, 2016, Oregon adopted a fully automatic (opt out) voter registration system as part of the process of issuing driver licenses and ID cards.

See also


  1. Timpe, Brenden (2013-03-14). "New Report: Higher Voter Turnout Linked to SDR". Demos (U.S. think tank). Retrieved 2013-05-29.
  2. 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.
  3. Australian Electoral Commission. "Deadlines for enrolling to vote for federal elections". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  4. ABC News Australia. "High Court upholds GetUp! case". Retrieved 20 August 2010.
  5. "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  6. "Folketing (Parliamentary) Elections Act" (PDF). Ministry of Social Affairs and the Interior. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  7. Legislative Council. "Paragraph 9" (PDF). Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  8. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "FAQ: Elections in Israel." Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  9. 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.   via Questia (subscription required)
  10. Valgloven §2, (Norwegian.) "Stemmerett" means right to vote while "stemmeplikt" means that voting is compulsory.
  12. "Individual voter ID plan brought forward to 2014". BBC News. 15 September 2010.
  13. 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.
  14. Staff (16 January 2012). "Daily Hansard – Debate 16 Jan 2012 : Column 451". Parliament. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  15. The Electoral Commission. "No fixed address". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  16. The Electoral Commission. "Voting in person". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  18. Secretary of State North Dakota. "Voter Registration in North Dakota". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  19. "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade" (PDF). The Pew Charitable Trusts. February 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  20. "Make It Easy: The Case for Automatic Registration". Democracy (journal). 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  21. Ariane de Vogue, "Voting challenges head toward the Supreme Court: 4 cases to watch", CNN, 19 July 2016; accessed 30 July 2016
  22. "Voter ID Laws Take a Beating in U.S. Courts", New York Times, 30 July 2016, p. 1
  23. Rober Barnes (August 1, 2016). "Federal judge blocks N. Dakota's voter-ID law, calling it unfair to Native Americans". Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  24. Oregon Motor Voter Act FAQ
  25. "Automatic Voter Registration". Brennan Center for Justice. 2016-04-01. Retrieved 2016-04-12.
  26. "Shumlin signs into law automatic voter registration". Vermont Business Magazine. 2016-04-28. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  27. "Automatic Voter Registration". Brennan Center for Justice. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  28. "Declare". Retrieved 4 August 2010.
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