The legislative sessions following the 2020 election have been some of the most prolific for election law in recent history, with more than 450 new election-related laws enacted since 2021 – and over 5,300 considered. While many of these bills were designed to improve voting access, legislation restricting voting access rose in the first quarter of 2023 as compared to 2022 and 2021 (see our latest report, Another Change-Making Year).
In the midst of these seismic shifts in election law, state legislatures have been reconsidering not only the methods by which voters cast their ballots, but also how voters get on and off the voter rolls.
Every state but North Dakota requires eligible voters to register in order to vote in an election. State laws vary on when and how a person can register to vote, as do rules for when and how voters’ registration status can be changed or removed.
In this month’s Hot Policy Take, we take a look at how certain states are suddenly bringing the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a widely trusted election list tool, under scrutiny, along with other changes in voter list maintenance happening around the country.
Manufactured Controversy: ERIC
For more than a decade, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) has been used by both Republican and Democratic-led states as an interstate compact enabling member states to exchange information and improve the accuracy of their voter registration lists. It has become an essential tool for election officials to use to prevent people from being registered and voting in multiple states. At the start of this year, it had grown to a membership of over thirty states and D.C.
However, in recent months, ERIC has become yet another popular, nonpartisan tool in election administration suddenly subjected to intense scrutiny from state lawmakers and organizations seeking to restrict voting access and undermine trust in our elections.
Due to this recent politicization of ERIC, eight states have recently left ERIC: Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia, Missouri, Alabama, Ohio, Iowa, and Virginia. A new law signed last week by Oklahoma Governor Stitt blocks the state from joining ERIC, while a bill requiring that Arizona leave ERIC is on the governor’s desk – unlikely to be signed. Both chambers of the North Carolina legislature included language in their respective budget proposals that would prohibit the state from joining ERIC, and legislation moving in Texas would require the state to exit as well.
Several of the states leaving ERIC once championed its capacities for election security. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who once called ERIC “one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have when it comes to actually catching people that try to vote in multiple states,” withdrew Ohio from ERIC in March of this year. Florida also exited ERIC this year, despite Governor Ron DeSantis championing the system just four years prior as a means to increase election security.
Trends in Voter Removal
At the same time as this focus on ERIC, many state legislatures are manufacturing new reasons for removing eligible voters from the rolls and/or creating new systems that lack safeguards protecting against the wrongful removal of eligible voters – instead of focusing on ways to ensure that every eligible voter registers to vote.
One such example includes the new trend of disqualifying voters who do not vote for a period of time. Though most states do not use not voting as grounds for initiating the deregistration of voters, at least eleven states since 2021 have introduced legislation that could initiate or facilitate the removal of eligible voters from the rolls simply because they did not cast a ballot in consecutive elections. Two states – Mississippi and Kansas – have enacted this type of legislation.
Another growing trend in voter removal legislation is an increase in proposals that aim to remove non-citizens from the rolls but employ inadequate matching criteria, risking removal of eligible voters. Since 2021, 7 states have enacted legislation that targets voter list removal of non-citizens. Many of these bills do not include safeguards to ensure that citizens with similar names are not erroneously removed from the rolls. Further, they often do not require that a voter be notified before removal, which would give eligible voters an opportunity to dispute wrongful removal.
Such a provision was part of Texas’s major anti-voter omnibus legislation S.B. 1 in 2021. Currently mired in litigation is Arizona H.B. 2492, which also imposes onerous proof-of-citizenship requirements, requiring the attorney general to use “all available resources” to investigate voters’ citizenship.
A Bright Spot: Improving Voter Registration
Despite the rise in voter removal efforts, we are also seeing strong efforts to register more eligible voters. So far this year, seven states (TN, WA, WV, MN, UT, NY, NM) and D.C. have enacted laws improving voter registration systems. Only three states – Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota – have enacted legislation restricting registration.
One area of particular progress is automatic voter registration (AVR). Twenty-two states either offer, or are in the process of implementing, systems for automatically registering eligible citizens to vote during interactions with the DMV, and sometimes other agencies as well. This number is steadily growing. Since 2021:
- Five states have instituted AVR, and no states have eliminated it: New Mexico and Minnesota instituted in 2023, and Connecticut, Delaware, and Hawaii in 2021.
- Three states and D.C. have made existing AVR systems available at more state agencies: Washington state and D.C. this year, and Nevada and New York in 2022.
Same-day registration (SDR) is another useful way to expand access. Twenty-seven states allow SDR during either the early voting period, on Election Day, or both. Since 2021:
- Three states have improved their same-day registration systems: New Mexico just this year, and California and Maine in 2022. In addition, a Delaware bill establishing a new same-day registration system was enacted in 2022 before being blocked by the state supreme court.
Only one state rolled back an existing same-day registration system: New Hampshire passed legislation in both 2021 and 2022 restricting its same-day registration system. A Montana bill that would have eliminated SDR was enacted in 2021 before being blocked by a state court. A 2022 Arizona law prohibits SDR, but the bill had no practical effect since the state did not previously offer SDR.
As our team at the Voting Rights Lab has noted repeatedly since the 2020 election, we are witnessing a growing divide in this country between states doing what they can to expand and improve voter access and election administration, and states actively working to curtail it. Good list maintenance and election security practices, including membership in ERIC, have unfortunately become another trendline in the further politicization of voting and election administration.