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Implementing Opt-Out Automatic Voter Registration Across the United States

Photo of Senator Iris Martinez

Sen. Iris Martínez (IL), NHCSL Midwest Chair

Sponsored by: Sen. Iris Y. Martínez (IL), Sen. Omar Aquino (IL), Sen. Antonio Muñoz (IL), and Rep. Fred Crespo (IL)

Ratified by the Caucus on February 24, 2018

WHEREAS, in a survey done by the United States Census Bureau of the November 2016 elections, Hispanics cited registration problems as a reason for not voting at a higher rate than any other ethnicity;[1] and,

WHEREAS, the same Census Bureau study showed that at least 24% of Hispanic citizens of voting age were not registered to vote in the 2016 general election compared to 12.4% of non-Hispanic whites and 13% of blacks;[2] and,

WHEREAS, a review of the 2016 general elections done by Prof. Charles Stewart of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that 13.8% of the people who did not vote in the general election cited registration as a factor;[3] and,

WHEREAS, the 2013 version of that same study showed that registration has traditionally been cited by Hispanics as the reason for not voting in general elections at almost twice the rate of non-Hispanic whites, 31.9% vs. 16.5% in 2008, and 20% vs. 12.9% in 2012, with African Americans traditionally citing it in slightly higher shares than Hispanics;[4] and,

WHEREAS, opt-out automatic voter registration automatically registers citizens to vote or update their voter registrations whenever they access or use government services, such as the Department of Motor of Vehicles (DMV), unless they choose to opt-out; and,

WHEREAS, modernizing voter registration with an opt-out automatic voter registration system moves most voter registration to an online format, which helps to prevent and reduce errors[5] and cut costs, as seen in Delaware, where the State Election Commission reported $200,000 in reduced labor costs the first year it switched to an electronic system;[6] and,

WHEREAS, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice of the New York University School of Law, opt-out automatic voter registration has been shown to significantly increase voter registration rates;[7] and,

WHEREAS, the state of Oregon, which in January 2016 became the first in the nation to implement opt-out automatic voter registration, “automatically registered more than 225,000 residents based on interactions with the state’s department of motor vehicles, such as obtaining or renewing a driver’s license. Of those, nearly 100,000 voted [in the November 2016 general election], a turnout rate of 43 percent, more than half the 80 percent rate among all registered voters in the state.”[8] Some estimates suggest that over 100,000 of the newly registered voters were people who would have been unlikely to register;[9] and,

WHEREAS, modernizing registration with the implementation of opt-out automatic voter registration in Oregon also made the electorate more representative of the state’s population with registered voters now being “lower income, [more] ethnically diverse, younger, and more rural”;[10] and,

WHEREAS, data from Oregon shows the average automatic voter registrant’s community was more Hispanic and less white than that of traditional registrants, meaning that the implementation of automatic voter registration can increase the rate at which Latino/Hispanic voters register;[11] and,

WHEREAS, opt-out choices tend to lead to higher results for default options, meaning that opt-out automatic voter registration would help to even further increase registration rates,[12] with an estimated 27 million eligible voters added to rolls if every state implemented automatic voter registration[13]; and,

WHEREAS, opt-out automatic voter registration will help to update the nearly 24 million invalid voter registrations in the U.S. and correct the approximately 12.7 million registrations that are out of date and do not have accurate current information about the voter;[14] and,

WHEREAS, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Oregon and Vermont, along with Washington D.C., had already implemented opt-out automatic voter registration as of June 2017; and,

WHEREAS, on July 2017, Rhode Island became the ninth jurisdiction to enact opt-out automatic voter registration at the behest of Latina Secretary of State, Nellie M. Gorbea, who championed H5702A, making it a priority for her administration, with the full support of NHCSL Executive Committee member Representative Carlos Tobón;[15] and,

WHEREAS, on May 31, 2017, with the strong support of Hispanic legislators, the Illinois General Assembly unanimously approved S.B. 1933, an automatic voter registration bill, and sent it to the Governor for his signature.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators recognizes the importance of modernizing voter registration systems across the United States with opt-out automatic voter registration legislation; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NHCSL calls upon state legislators to enact opt-out automatic voter registration laws in their states to boost turnout, modernize voter registration systems, increase the presence of Hispanic and other minority voters in the electorate, and prevent disenfranchisement of minority voters of color.


[1] https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-580.html; the rate for Hispanics was 5.4% vs. 4.4% for white non-Hispanics and 4.0% for blacks. The Current Population Survey uses a multistage probability sample based on the results of the decennial census, which reflects the well-known inherent biases in the decennial census that undercount Hispanics. For more information on the undercount see https://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-05-22/census-hispanic-black/55140150/1

[2] Ibid. The rate of Hispanic citizens not registered to vote could be much higher because 18.8% did not respond to the registration question. Some estimates cite a rate as high as 41%. See: http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/AVR_0.pdf

[3] Stewart, Charles, 2017, "2016 Survey of the Performance of American Elections", doi:10.7910/DVN/Y38VIQ, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:/Mol52fZ59fx6OsPWIRsWw==; SPAE 2016 final report.pdf; available at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/file.xhtml?fileId=3012344; see also http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/AVR_0.pdf

[4] Stewart, Charles, 2013, "2012 Survey of the Performance of American Elections", hdl:1902.1/21624, Harvard Dataverse, V2, UNF:5:nMKNqnHfGzpAilhPJPvE8g==; SPAE_Final_Report_2013.pdf; available at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=hdl:1902.1/21624 The review of the 2012 general election is the last one in which the study breaks down registration issues by ethnicity.



[7] https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/automatic-voter-registration-boosts-political-participation

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/us/politics/oregon-voter-registration.html


[10] http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/AVR_0.pdf


[12] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1324774

[13] http://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/publications/AVR_0.pdf


[15] http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170730/political-scene-gorbea-gets-win-with-voter-registration-law