National Voter Registration Act of 1993

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National Voter Registration Act of 1993
Great Seal of the United States.
Long title An Act to establish national voter registration procedures for Federal elections, and for other purposes.
Colloquial acronym(s) NVRA
Nickname(s) Motor Voter
Enacted by the  103rd United States Congress
Effective May 20, 1993
Public Law 103-31
Stat. 107 Stat. 77
Title(s) amended 42 U.S.C.: Public Health and Social Welfare
U.S.C. section(s) amended Chapter 20 § 1973gg
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 2 by Al Swift (D-WA) on January 5, 1993
  • Committee consideration by: House Administration
  • Passed the House on February 4, 1993 (259–160)
  • Passed the Senate on March 17, 1993 (62–37)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on April 28, 1993; agreed to by the House on May 5, 1993 (259–164) and by the Senate on May 11, 1993 (62–36)
  • Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on May 20, 1993

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) (42 U.S.C. § 1973gg), also known as The Motor Voter Act, is a law that was signed into effect by United States President Bill Clinton on May 20, 1993. However, compliance did not become mandatory until 1995. The legislation required state governments to allow for registration when a qualifying voter applied for or renewed their driver's license or applied for social services.

Provisions of the act[edit]

The legislation was initially designed to reduce costs of voting registration by accumulating individual data when applying for a drivers license and or receiving social assistance.[1] The "motor voter" nickname came from the idea that most of the NVRA data was accumulated from applicants renewing or obtaining driver's licenses.[1] Individuals who applied for "agency based" needs such as food stamps, disability services and other social services were to be offered voter registration, as well. The intention of the legislation was to encourage greater access to voter registration for the citizens who needed further assistance registering to vote. Also, NVRA allowed for more accessible voter registration through mail-in and individual voter registration drives.

History of the act[edit]

This voter registration movement was spearheaded by the husband and wife team of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward in the early 1980s in response to the Reagan administration. Both of them college professors and liberal activists, it was Piven and Cloward's belief that through government implementation of more active registration proposals, it would increase voter turnout rates which had been on a steady decline since the monumental election of 1896. The NVRA encourages people of all demographics to vote despite their socioeconomic situations and backgrounds.[1] Political parties, in particular Democrats, were hoping that the NVRA would reduce racial disparities and close the electoral gap by including more minorities, low income earners, individuals on public assistance and other individuals reluctant to vote.


The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is responsible for administering NVRA for U.S. citizens abroad. FVAP allows eligible citizens to register to vote at 6000 Armed Forces Recruitment Offices nationwide.[citation needed]

Wesley v. Cox[edit]

In 2004, the Nu Mu Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, held a voter registration drive in DeKalb County, Georgia, from which Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox (Dem.) rejected all 63 voter registration applications on the basis that the fraternity did not follow correct procedures, including obtaining specific pre-clearance from the state to conduct their drive. Nu Mu Lambda filed Charles H. Wesley Education Foundation v. Cathy Cox on the basis that the Georgia Secretary of State's long-standing policy and practice of rejecting mail-in voter registration applications that were submitted in bundles and/or by persons other than registrars, deputy registrars, or the individual applicants, violated the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by undermining voter registration drives. A senior U.S. District Judge upheld earlier federal court decisions in the case, which also found private entities have a right, under Motor Voter, to engage in organized voter registration activity in Georgia at times and locations of their choosing, without the presence or permission of state or local election officials.[2]


Voting rights organizations have contended that some states have not been living up to responsibilities mandated by the National Voter Registration Act. In several states, organizations such as Demos, Project Vote, and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have filed lawsuits or sent pre-litigation letters. In some of these cases, this has resulted in changes in compliance by states.[3]

On June 17, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Arizona in the case Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc.. The Court upheld the NVRA in response to a 2004 Arizona proposition, Proposition 200. It was a ballot initiative designed in part “to combat voter fraud by requiring voters to present proof of citizenship when they register to vote and to present identification when they vote on election day.” Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U. S. 1, 2 (2006) (per curiam). It was a 7-2 decision striking down the law. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.[4]

The NVRA requires States to “accept and use” a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections. 42 U. S. C. §1973gg–4(a)(1). That “Federal Form,” developed by the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), requires only that an applicant aver, under penalty of perjury, that he is a citizen. Arizona law, however, requires voter-registration officials to “reject” any application for registration, including a Federal Form,that is not accompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship. Respondents, a group of individual Arizona residents and a group of nonprofit organizations, sought to enjoin that Arizona law. Ultimately, the District Court granted Arizona summary judgment on respondents’ claim that the NVRA pre-empts Arizona’s requirement. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part but reversed as relevant here, holding that the state law’s documentary-proof-of-citizenship requirement is pre-empted by the NVRA. [4]


  1. ^ a b c Wolfinger, Raymond E.; Hoffman, Jonathan (March 2001). "Registering and Voting with Motor Voter". Political Science and Politics (American Political Science Association) 34 (1): 85–92. JSTOR 1350315. 
  2. ^ Cox Violated Voter Rights, Judge Declares
  3. ^ "Background on Delgado v. Galvin Interim Settlement" (Press release). Demos. 2012-08-09. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  4. ^ a b

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