Community-based voter registration organizations -- whether they are partisan or non-partisan, secular or religious, paid or volunteer -- serve as critical intermediaries between states and citizens who are currently alienated from the political process. While there are other mechanisms for reaching the tens of millions of eligible Americans who are still not registered to vote -- including the National Voter Registration Act's "motor voter" and public assistance agency programs -- there is still no substitute for the simple, affirmative act of sending voter registration canvassers into America's neighborhoods to help community members complete voter regsitration applications.
Such voter registration drives, of course, have long been a feature of American politics, and have helped countless Americans become registered voters. But the 2008 election cycle marked a recent high water mark, as a surge of interest in voting and an historically unprecedented presidential race saw many community-based drives achieving record numbers of applications. This tremendous success, however, elicited an organized backlash that came in two parts. The first part consisted of exaggerated or inaccurate allegations of voter registration fraud, many of which were uncritically reported by the media despite an astonishing absence of factual basis. The second, perhaps more damaging form of backlash came in the introduction of a series of state bills, many of which have passed into law, that were designed to significantly restrict voter registration drives in a number of states. These new laws are the focus of this report , which examines restrictions on voter registration drives, gives examples from several states, and concludes with some reasonable policy recommendations.