The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires states to register citizens through public assistance agencies, making participation easier and more accessible for millions of low-income Americans. However, the evidence is compelling that many states are in poor compliance with the public assistance agency registration requirements of the NVRA. Indeed, state election and agency officials often admit that compliance is lacking, and agency offices are often found without the necessary training and forms.
Efforts to improve compliance with the NVRA must first grapple with the question: "How many registrations should a particular state or the nation produce from public assistance agencies?" To address this question, and place agency data in context, this memo provides the following estimates:
(1) the percent of agency clients that need to register to vote,
(2) the number of people interacting with agencies, and
(3) the performance history of agencies that are complying with the law.
State-to-state comparisons show that many states are performing poorly, and many states are performing below their own performance levels from just a few years ago. Nationwide, these steep declines in agency voter registration performance occurred during a period of significant increases in participation in the Food Stamp Program, one of the largest programs required to comply with the NVRA. Some states also perform better at agency registration than states with greater need. All of these factors suggest that the poor results are a matter of administrative performance and not a lack of need.
If all states had performed in 2006 at a level that many states did just a few years ago, close to 1.8 million more registrations would have taken place.