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Voter registration

Voter registration is the requirement in some democracies for citizens and residents to check in with some central registry specifically for the purpose of being allowed to vote in elections. An effort to get people to register is known as a voter registration drive.


  • Centralized/compulsory vs. opt-in 1
  • Same-day voter registration or Election Day Registration 2
  • Effects and controversy 3
  • Registration of voters in various countries 4
    • Australia 4.1
    • Canada 4.2
    • Chile 4.3
    • Czech republic 4.4
    • Denmark 4.5
    • Finland 4.6
    • Germany 4.7
    • Hong Kong 4.8
    • Iceland 4.9
    • India 4.10
    • Israel 4.11
    • Italy 4.12
    • Mexico 4.13
    • Norway 4.14
    • Switzerland 4.15
    • United Kingdom 4.16
    • United States 4.17
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7
    • Registration systems 7.1
    • Specific United States voter registration projects 7.2

Centralized/compulsory vs. opt-in

In various countries, including most developed countries, registration is the responsibility of the government, either local or national; and in over 30 countries some form of compulsory voting is required as part of each citizen's civic duty. Even in many countries where the voting itself is not compulsory, registering one's place of residence with some government agency is required, which automatically constitutes voter registration for citizens, and in some cases residents, of the required age. In other countries, however, people eligible to vote must "opt in" to be permitted to participate in voting, generally by filling out a specific form registering them to vote. Governments registering people has been shown to be one of the most powerful predictors of high voting turnout levels.

Even in countries where registration is the individual's responsibility, many reformers, seeking to maximize voter turnout, have pushed for wider availability of the required forms; one such effort in the United States led to the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter Law") and similar laws, which required states to offer voter registration at motor vehicle departments (driver's license offices) as well as disability centers, public schools, and public libraries, and to accept mail-in voter registration.

Same-day voter registration or Election Day Registration

Same day registration is also known as Election Day Registration. Ten states in the US do not require advance registration, instead allowing voters to register when they arrive at the polls or, in the case of North Dakota, eliminating the registration step altogether. Same-day registration (SDR) has been linked to higher voter turn-out with SDR states reporting average turn-out of 71% in the 2012 United States Presidential election, well above the average voter turn-out rate of 59% for non-SDR states.[1]

Effects and controversy

Registration laws making it harder to register have a strong correlation with lower percentages of people turning out to vote where voting is voluntary.[2] This lower turnout is especially concentrated among the low-income and young parts of the demographic, groups who are disproportionately likely to vote leftwing parties.[3] Because of this, such laws are often controversial. Some advocate for their abolition, while others argue that the laws should be reformed, for instance: allowing voters to register on the day of the election. This approach, called Election Day Registration, has been adopted by several US states: Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming. For the 2012 election year, California has joined this list.

Registration of voters in various countries

Systems of voter registration vary widely from country to country, and sometimes from locality to locality. In some, voters are automatically added to the rolls when they reach legal voting age. In others, potential voters are required to apply to be added to the rolls.


The Australian Electoral Commission administers Australia's federal electoral roll. Each state also has its own electoral commission or office, but voters need only register with the AEC, which passes the registration details to relevant state commissions.

Voter registration is mandatory for all citizens 18 years of age or above. An individual has 8 weeks after turning 18 to register but may register at any time with no penalty being enforced for failure to register. Similarly, if a change of address causes an individual to move to another electorate (Electoral Division) they are legally obliged to notify the Electoral Commission within 8 weeks. In Australia, details of house and apartment sales are in the public domain. The Electoral Commission monitors these and sends a reminder (and the forms) to new residents if they have moved to another electorate, making compliance with the law much easier.

Periodically the Electoral Commission conducts door-to-door and postal campaigns to try to ensure that all eligible persons are registered in the correct electorate.

The registration covers federal, state and local voter registration. In Australia it is a legal offence to fail to vote (or, at the very least, attend a polling station and have one's name crossed off the roll) at any federal or state election, punishable by a nominal fine. The amount varies between federal and state elections. (The fine for not voting is currently A$20.00 in Victoria. This figure is indexed at the beginning of every financial year.) Usually people are issued with warnings when it is found that they have not voted, and they are given an opportunity to show cause. Acceptable reasons for not voting may include being in the accident department of a hospital, being ill (requires confirmation), being out of the country on election day, religious objections, being incarcerated etc. "I forgot" is not considered acceptable and will incur a fine. Section 245 of the Electoral Act provides that if an elector who has been asked the "true reason" for his failure to vote states that he did not do so because it was against his religion, this statement shall be regarded as conclusive, and no further action will be taken.

Traditionally voters cannot register within three weeks of an election, but in 2004 the GetUp! won a High Court decision deeming the changes unconstitutional.[5]


In Canada, the task of enumeration was handled by the relevant elections bureau such as Elections Canada for the federal level until 1992. Until that time, the task was delegated to temporary employees from the public who were charged with going to each residence in assigned areas to determine the eligible voters for a publicly displayed list for each election. However, this system was discontinued for fiscal reasons in the 1990s in favour of an opt-in option where voters mark their consent to be added the national voters list, or register, on their annual income tax returns. Although this allows the list to be updated annually, there are still complaints of excessive numbers of omissions which needlessly complicates voting for the public and is contributing to a serious decline in the percentage of the population who votes.

The Register is also updated using the following sources:[6]

  • provincial and territorial motor vehicle registrars
  • Canada Revenue Agency
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada
  • provincial and territorial vital statistics registrars, and provincial electoral agencies with permanent lists of electors (e.g. British Columbia and Quebec)
  • information supplied by electors when they register to vote or revise their information during and between federal electoral events
  • proven electoral lists from other Canadian jurisdictions

Same-day registration is also permitted.


Since 2012, voter registration in Chile is automatic and based on a database by the Civil Registry Office of Chileans and resident foreigners in possession of an identity card number, which is unique for each individual and never re-used after a person's death. All Chileans and eligible foreigners are added automatically to the electoral roll at age 17 and placed on an electoral constituency based on their last reported address with the Office. That address, known as "electoral domicile," can be different from a person's actual living address, if so desired. The electoral roll may contain a substantial number of persons residing abroad, which are not currently allowed to vote outside of Chile.[7]

Czech republic

All citizens and residents are included in the national register. Each person is assigned a personal identification number that includes the person's date of birth and is divisible by 11.


All citizens and residents of Denmark are included in the national register, Det Centrale Personregister, where each person is assigned a personal number of ten digits which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system, official record of residence and other purposes, and it is maintained by the Ministry of Welfare (Velfærdsministeriet). All eligible voters receive a card in the mail before each election which shows the date, time and local polling place; it may only be presented at the designated local polling station. Only citizens may vote in national elections, while long-time residents may vote in local and regional elections. Voting is voluntary.


Voter registration in Finland is automatic and based on the national population register. Each citizen is assigned a identification number at birth. Permanent residents appear in this register even if they are not citizens, and this information is marked on the register. People in the register are legally obliged to notify the register keeper of changes of address. Changing the address in the register automatically notifies all other public bodies (for example the tax district for local taxation, the social security authorities, the conscription authorities) and certain trusted private ones (e.g. banks and insurance companies) making the process of moving residence very simple. Close to election time a notification is mailed to registered persons informing them of the election and where and when to cast their votes. Only citizens may vote in national elections but all residents may vote in local elections.


All permanent residents of Germany are required to register their place of residence (or the fact that they are homeless) with local government. Citizens who will be 18 or older on the day of voting will automatically receive a notification card in the mail some weeks before any election in which they are eligible to vote; for local elections, resident citizens of other EU countries will also receive these cards; for European election, citizens of other EU countries have to register. Polling places have lists of all eligible voters resident in the neighborhood served by the particular station; the voter's notification card (or photo ID such as an identity card, passport or driving license, if the notification card is not at hand) is checked against these lists before they receive a ballot. Voting is not compulsory.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong all permanent residents who are above 18 years of age and do not suffer from a mental illness can register as voters. Imprisoned people can also register and vote since the laws prohibiting them from voting was ruled unconstitutional in 2009 and are able to vote since mid-2010 as the electoral roll is updated annually. The registration process is voluntary. In 2002 around 1.6 million permanent residents did not register.[8]


As all citizens of Iceland are registered in a central database at birth, maintained by Registers Iceland, there is no need for voter registration.


The Government of India conducts a revision of the voters list every 5 years. An additional summary revision is conducted every year. Apart from this, citizens can request their inclusion in the Voters list by applying through form 6. If the application is valid, the applicant's name will get included in the list.


In Israel, all citizens who are 18 years of age or older on election day are automatically registered to vote.


In Italy, all municipalities have a registry of residents and a registry of eligible voters.This is revised every six months and whenever there is an election. The registry of eligible voters can be viewed by anyone to insure maximum transparency in the electoral process. All citizens aged 18 or more on the election day are automatically registered to vote. Bankruptcy and some criminal convictions result in temporary revocation of voting rights.


Voter ID card from Mexico.

Mexico has a general electoral census. Any citizen of age 18 or greater must go to an electoral office in order be registered into the electoral census. Citizens receive a voting card (credencial de elector con fotografía), issued by the National Electoral Institute (INE) (from 1990 until 4/2014 it was called Federal Electoral Institute) that must be shown to vote in any election. The voting card also serves as a national identity document.


All citizens and residents of Norway are included in the national register, Folkeregisteret, where each person is assigned a personal number of eleven digits which include the person's date of birth. The register is used for tax lists, voter lists, membership in the universal health care system and other purposes, and it is maintained by the tax authorities. All eligible voters receive a card in the mail before each election which shows the date, time and local polling place. Only citizens may vote in national elections, while longtime residents may vote in local and regional elections. Voting is not compulsory.


All citizens and residents of Switzerland are required to register themselves with the municipal authorities at their place of residence. Voter registration is automatic for citizens, who receive their ballot by mail a few weeks before an election or referendum.

United Kingdom

In the UK voter registration is compulsory,[9] but the requirement to register is rarely enforced.[10] The current system of registration in the United Kingdom (UK), introduced by the Labour government is known as rolling registration whereby electors can register with a local authority at any time of the year. This replaced the twice-yearly census of electors which often disenfranchised those who had moved during the interval between censuses.

Across the country, the registration of electors is still technically the responsibility of the head of household, a concept seen by some as being out of step with modern society. This current system is controversial as it is possible for one person to delete people who may live with them from the electoral roll; as of January 2012, mandatory individual registration, pursuant to the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, was anticipated.[11] A feasibility study for electronic individual voter registration (IVR), based on the experience of international nations, was undertaken by EURIM (Information Society Alliance), following an invitation in 2010; the final report was released in 2011.[12] According to the House of Commons Hansard from 16 January 2012, the IVR initiative is yet to be implemented in the UK, with discussion of the Northern Irish experience, whereby individual voter registration levels significantly decreased following the introduction of an IVR policy, having taken place.[13] In an experiment in Northern Ireland using personal identifiers, such as National Insurance numbers and signatures, the number of registered electors fell by some ten thousand; it was understood that this may have taken off the electoral roll fictitious voters. Registration is mandatory pursuant to section 23 of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001 (No. 341) and violators are liable on summary conviction and face a maximum fine of £1,000. Voters must be on the electoral roll in order to vote in national, local or European elections. A fixed address is also required in order for an individual to vote in an election; if someone wishes to vote but lacks a fixed address, they may register to vote by filling in a 'Declaration of local connection' form. This establishes a connection to the area based on the last fixed address someone had, or the place where they are likely to spend a substantial amount of their time (e.g. a homeless shelter).[14]

A voting card is sent to each registrant shortly before any elections. This does not need to be taken to the polling station, instead it serves to remind individuals of the exact details they provided to the electoral register.[15]

United States

A group of African-American children gather around a sign and booth to register voters. Early 1960s.

While the federal government has jurisdiction over federal elections, most election laws are decided at the state level. The United States Constitution prohibits states from restricting voting rights in ways that infringe on a person's right to equal protection under the law (14th Amendment), on the basis of race (15th Amendment), on the basis of gender (19th Amendment), or on the basis of age for persons age 18 and older (26th Amendment). The administration of elections can vary widely across jurisdictions. Voters register at the county level; citizens are not automatically registered, as in some countries. Every state except North Dakota requires that citizens who wish to vote be registered, although local jurisdictions in North Dakota can create such a requirement.[16]

Traditionally, voters have had to register at government offices to vote, but in the mid-1990s the federal government made registering easier, in an attempt to increase voter registration drives, organized efforts to register groups of new voters.

An increasing number of states have begun to allow voter registration to take place entirely online. As of June 2014, online voter registration is currently available in 17[18] states: Illinois,[19] Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Washington, with a further three states (Hawaii, Nebraska, and West Virginia) in the process of implementing online voter registration.

A 2012 study by The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that 24% of the voting-eligible population in the United States are not registered to vote, a percentage that represents "at least 51 million eligible U.S. citizens."[20][21]

Only US citizens have the right to vote in federal elections.[22] In a few cases, permanent residents ("green card" holders) have registered to vote and have cast ballots, generally without realizing that doing so was illegal. Non-citizens convicted in criminal court of having made a false claim of citizenship for the purpose of registering to vote in a federal election can be fined and imprisoned for up to a year. Deportation and removal proceedings have resulted in several such cases.[23] Some states prohibit convicted felons from voting, a practice known as felony disenfranchisement. Of these states, some prohibit voting only during parole or probation but allow voting after. Other states ban felons from voting for life.[24]

In many states, citizens registering to vote may declare an affiliation with a Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, practice non-partisan registration.[26]

See also


  1. ^ Timpe, Brenden (2013-03-14). "New Report: Higher Voter Turnout Linked to SDR".  
  2. ^ For the U.S, see Julianna Pacheco and Eric Plutzer, "How State Electoral Institutions Influence the Electoral Participation of Young Citizens", Department of Political Science, Penn State University, 2007, i + 18 pp.
  3. ^ Marcelo, Karlo Barrios (June 2008). "Voter Registration Among Young People" (PDF). CIRCLE: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. Retrieved 8 August 2011.  "Registering to vote is sometimes more difficult than the act of voting itself...registration rates among young people have been lower than those of their adult counterparts."
  4. ^ Australian Electoral Commission. "Deadlines for enrolling to vote for federal elections". Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  5. ^ ABC News Australia. "High Court upholds GetUp! case". Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Legislative Council. "Paragraph 9" (PDF). Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Individual voter ID plan brought forward to 2014". BBC News. 15 September 2010. 
  12. ^ EURIM (May 2011). "INDIVIDUAL VOTER REGISTRATION – LESSONS FROM OVERSEAS" (PDF). Information Governance Individual Voter Registration Subgroup Status Report. EURIM (Information Society Alliance). Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  13. ^ Staff (16 January 2012). "Daily Hansard – Debate 16 Jan 2012 : Column 451". Parliament. Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  14. ^ The Electoral Commission. "No fixed address". Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  15. ^ The Electoral Commission. "Voting in person". Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  16. ^ Secretary of State North Dakota. "Voter Registration in North Dakota". Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Electronic (or Online) Voter Registration".  
  19. ^ "Illinois Online Voter Application". Illinois State Board of Elections. Illinois State Board of Elections. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  20. ^ "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade" (PDF). The Pew Charitable Trusts. February 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  21. ^ "Make It Easy: The Case for Automatic Registration". Democracy (journal). 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2015. 
  22. ^ "The Right to Vote".  
  23. ^ Kirk Semple, ""Immigrants Find Voting Can Come At a Cost". New York Times, 15 October 2010.
  24. ^,_disenfranchisement_plagues_americas_ballot_box.shtml
  25. ^ Navigating Election Day: What Every Voter Needs To Know, Before You Vote
  26. ^ "Voter Registration Resources".  
  27. ^ "Declare". Retrieved 4 August 2010. 

External links

Registration systems

  • Streetwiki – Project of the Metagovernment to enable a distributed registration system for online voting.
  • Voter ID Card Online – Indian Electors can now apply for Voter ID Card online.

Specific United States voter registration projects

  • Voter Registration – registration by state, general voter registration information.
  • Long Distance Voter – voter registration and absentee ballot resources for all 50 states.
  • Overseas Vote Foundation – Online voter registration and ballot request tools for U.S. civilian voters living overseas and for military voters and their dependents stationed overseas
  • Register to vote with Rock the Vote's guided online form. (USA)
  • Online: Arizona
  • Register Online: Washington
  • Oregon Bus Project's Building Votes program (a model for peer-to-peer voter registration drives)
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