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. §§ 2050120511) (formerly 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973gg1973gg-10), also known as the Motor Voter Act, is a United States federal law signed into law by President Bill Clinton on May 20, 1993, and which came into effect on January 1, 1995. The law was enacted under the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution. The law advances voting rights in the United States by requiring state governments to offer voter registration opportunities to any eligible person who applies for or renews a driver license or applies for public assistance along with requiring the United States Postal Service to mail election materials of a state as if the state is a nonprofit.[1] The law requires states to register applicants that use a federal voter registration form to apply and prohibits states from removing registered voters from the voter rolls unless certain criteria are met.

The Act exempts from its requirements the states that have continuously, since March 11, 1993, not required voter registration for federal elections or that have offered Election Day voter registration (EDR) for federal general elections. Six states qualify for exemption from the Act: North Dakota (which does not require registration), Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Maine lost the exemption when it abolished EDR in 2011, although EDR was subsequently restored in that state.


After Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address rampant voting discrimination against racial minorities, voting rights advocates argued for federal legislation to remove other barriers to voter registration in the United States. 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 in which he or she is voting. 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.[2]:1–2

Congress passed 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. Congress also passed the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (1986), requiring states to mail federal voter registration forms to overseas and military voters and permit them to register by mail.[2]: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 proposed 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 proposed 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 passed a nearly identical bill: the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.[2]:2–3[3]:91–94

In March 1991, the American rock band R.E.M. placed a mail-away petition in support of the act on the back of the longbox of their album Out of Time and encouraged their fans to fill them out and mail them to Rock the Vote.[4] Rock the Vote received over 100,000 such petitions from the band's fans, and subsequently delivered them to the United States Senate in April 1991.[4] The band's campaign has been credited with raising significant public awareness and support of the act before it was signed into law.[4]



The purposes of the Act are set out in Section 2:

  • to increase the number of registered voters,
  • to enhance voter participation,
  • to protect election integrity, and
  • to ensure states maintain accurate voter roll.[5]:5[6]

Scope and exemption

The Act formally applies 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.[5]:5–6

The Act exempts from its requirements states that have continuously, since March 11, 1993, not required voter registration for federal elections or that 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.[7]:444 (Several states have since adopted some form of same-day voter registration, but these states are nevertheless subject to the Act.)

Voter registration of driver's license applicants

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.[8] The "motor voter" nickname came from the idea that most of the NVRA data was accumulated from applicants renewing or obtaining driver's licenses.[8]

Voter registration agencies

Section 7 requires state agencies that provide public assistance – including those that administer federal assistance programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, TANF, and WIC, and disability offices – to assist their applicants and clients in registering to vote during the application process.[9]

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

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 Georgia's long-standing policy and practice of rejecting mail-in voter registration applications that were submitted in bundles, by persons other than registrars, deputy registrars, or "authorized persons", violated the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act 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 the federal law, 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.[10]

Federal voter registration form

The Act requires States to "accept and use" a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections.[11] The National Mail Voter Registration Form (commonly referred to as the "Federal Form") was developed by the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and requires only that an applicant affirm, under penalty of perjury, various matters including that he or she is a citizen. (The Federal Form can be used as an alternative to any state form.)

Arizona, however, requires voter-registration officials to "reject" any application for registration, including a Federal Form, that is not accompanied by documentary evidence of citizenship. A group of Arizona residents and a group of nonprofit organizations challenged the Arizona law in court. Ultimately, the District Court granted Arizona summary judgment on the respondents' claim that the federal Act preempts Arizona’s requirement. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the state's documentary-proof-of-citizenship requirement is preempted by the federal Act.[12] On June 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Arizona in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc., holding that the federal Act preempted a 2004 Arizona proposition, Arizona Proposition 200 (2004), which 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."[13] In a 7–2 decision the Court struck down the state law. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, holding that the State requirements were pre-empted by the federal law, which mandates states to "accept and use" the Federal Form. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.[12]


Voting rights organizations argue that some states have not been complying with the National Voter Registration Act. In several states, organizations such as Demos, Project Vote, Campaign Legal Center[14] 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][15][16]


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2  This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "The National Voter Registration Act of 1993: History, Implementation, and Effects". Retrieved June 8, 2014.
  3. Gemmiti, Nathan V. (January 1, 1998). "Porsche or Pinto? The Impact of the "Motor Voter Registration Act" on Black Political Participation". Boston College Third World Law Journal. 18 (1). Retrieved June 8, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Jones, Whitney (25 July 2014). "Why R.E.M.'s Out of Time Is the Most Politically Significant Album in U.S. History". Slate. Retrieved 30 December 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rogers, Estelle H. (2009). "The National Voter Registration Act at Fifteen" (PDF). Project Vote. Retrieved June 2, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[permanent dead link]
  6. National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (52 U.S.C § 20501(b))
  7. Shordt, Richard F. (February 2010). "Not Registered to Vote? Sign This, Mail It, and Go Hire a Lawyer" (PDF). George Washington Law Review (78). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 14, 2010. Retrieved June 2, 2014. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Background on Delgado v. Galvin Interim Settlement" (Press release). Demos. 2012-08-09. Retrieved 2012-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Cox Violated Voter Rights, Judge Declares". Archived from the original on 2014-08-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 42 U.S.C. §1973gg–4(a)(1).
  12. 12.0 12.1 One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication in the public domain:
  13. Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1, 2 (2006) (per curiam).
  14. "Attorneys suspect tens of thousands of Nevadans wrongly stripped of right to vote". Reno Gazette Journal. Retrieved 2018-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Delaware changing voter registration forms amid legality concerns". delawareonline. Retrieved 2018-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Bureau, Emily Nitcher World-Herald. "Federal form gives incorrect info on felon voting rights in Nebraska". Retrieved 2018-03-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links