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.
Acronyms (colloquial) NVRA
Nicknames National Voter Registration Act, Motor Voter
Enacted by the 103rd United States Congress
Effective January 1, 1995
Public law 103-31
Statutes at Large 107 Stat. 77
Titles amended 42 U.S.C.: Public Health and Social Welfare transferred to 52 U.S.C.: Voting and Elections
U.S.C. sections created 42 U.S.C. ch. 20, subch. I-H § 1973gg et seq. transferred to 52 U.S.C. §§ 2050120511
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) (52 U.S.C. § 20501 - 52 U.S.C. § 20511) (formerly 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973gg1973gg-10), also known as The Motor Voter Act, is a piece of federal legislation in the United States that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on May 20, 1993, and began to take effect on January 1, 1995. The law expanded voting rights by requiring state governments to offer voter registration opportunities to any eligible person who applies for or renews a driver's license or public assistance, requiring states to register applicants that use a federal voter registration form to apply, and prohibiting states from removing registered voters from the voter rolls unless certain criteria are met.


After Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address rampant voting discrimination against racial minorities, voting rights advocates began pushing for federal legislation to remove remaining barriers to voter registration. The basic requirements to vote are the same in all states. A person has to be a U.S. citizen, of at least 18 years old and a resident of the state that he or she is voting in. However, initial legislative efforts to create national voter registration standards for federal elections failed. In the early 1970s, Congress considered several legislative proposals to require the U.S. Census Bureau to mail voter registration forms to every household, none of which passed. In the mid and late 1970s, legislative proposals to require certain public agency offices to make voter registration forms available and to require states to allow Election Day voter registration failed. Similar bills introduced throughout the 1980s also failed.[1]:1–2

Nonetheless, Congress did pass two pieces of legislation in the 1980s that made voter registration for federal elections more accessible for certain disadvantaged populations. In 1984, Congress passed the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, which requires that states make available to elderly and handicapped voters "a reasonable number of accessible permanent registration facilities" and registration aids, and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (1986) required states to mail federal voter registration forms to overseas and military voters and permit them to register by mail.[1]:2

In light of low voter turnout in federal elections throughout the 1980s, Congress returned its attention to creating general voter registration standards in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Members of Congress introduced a series of "motor voter" bills that would require state motor vehicle agencies to offer voter registration opportunities to clients applying for driver's licenses. The first of these bills, the National Voter Registration Act of 1989, passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, but it stalled in the Senate. A similar bill, the National Voter Registration Act of 1991, gained less bipartisan support; it passed in both the Senate and the House, but it was vetoed by President George H.W. Bush. Two years later, Congress considered a nearly identical bill: the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.[1]:2–3[2]:91–94


Purposes and scope[edit]

As described in Section 2, the Act has four purposes:

  • To increase the number of registered voters;
  • To enhance voter participation;
  • To protect election integrity; and
  • To ensure states maintain accurate voter rolls.[3]:5[4]

The Act's provisions formally apply only to federal elections; however, because states have unified their voter registration systems for state and federal elections, the provisions functionally apply to both state and federal elections.[3]:5–6 The Act exempts from its requirements states that, continuously since March 11, 1993, have not required voter registration for federal elections or have offered Election Day voter registration for federal general elections. Six states satisfy these exemption requirements: North Dakota is exempt for having continuously allowed its residents to vote in federal elections without registering, while Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have continuously offered Election Day voter registration for federal general elections.[5]:444

Voter registration of driver's license applicants[edit]

Section 5 requires state motor vehicle offices to provide voter registration opportunities to anyone applying for a new or renewed driver's license or state identification card. The Act reduces costs of voting registration by accumulating individual data when applying for a drivers license or receiving social assistance.[6] The "motor voter" nickname came from the idea that most of the NVRA data was accumulated from applicants renewing or obtaining driver's licenses.[6]

Voter registration agencies[edit]

Section 7 requires that states offer individuals who apply for "agency based" needs such as food stamps, disability services, and other social services the opportunity to register to vote during the application process.

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]

Mail voter registration[edit]

Section 6 allows for more accessible voter registration through mail voter registration.

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 (Wesley v. 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.[7]

Federal voter registration form[edit]

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 affirm, 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 preempts Arizona’s requirement. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the state's documentary-proof-of-citizenship requirement is preempted by the NVRA.[8]

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 held the NVRA preempted 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.[8]


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.[9]


  1. ^ a b c  This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "The National Voter Registration Act of 1993: History, Implementation, and Effects" by Crocker, Royce (September 8, 2013) (retrieved on June 8, 2014).
  2. ^ Gemmiti, Nathan V. (January 1, 1998). iss1/4 "Porsche or Pinto? The Impact of the "Motor Voter Registration Act" on Black Political Participation" Check |url= value (help). Boston College Third World Law Journal. 18 (1). Retrieved June 8, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Rogers, Estelle H. (2009). "The National Voter Registration Act at Fifteen" (PDF). Project Vote. Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ "National Voter Registration Act of 1993 § 2(b) (42 U.S.C. § 1973gg(b))".  External link in |title= (help);
  5. ^ Shordt, Richard F. (February 2010). "Not Registered to Vote? Sign This, Mail It, and Go Hire a Lawyer" (PDF). George Washington Law Review (78). Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b 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. doi:10.1017/s1049096501000130. JSTOR 1350315. 
  7. ^ Cox Violated Voter Rights, Judge Declares
  8. ^ a b One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work in the public domain:
  9. ^ "Background on Delgado v. Galvin Interim Settlement" (Press release). Demos. 2012-08-09. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 

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