The League’s history of breaking down barriers to voting is perhaps best exemplified by its contribution to the passage of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993.
LWV’s Work to Pass the NVRA
In the 1980s and 90s, LWV led a campaign to pass and implement the landmark NVRA. In doing so, they founded the Motor Voter coalition; alongside organizations like the ACLU and NAACP National Voter Fund, LWV co-chaired the coalition and sought to streamline confusing state laws and make the voter registration process more accessible.
Through a high-visibility, grassroots drive, the coalition pushed the NVRA toward its eventual passage in 1993. President Clinton, who signed the NVRA into law, gifted his pen to the League and deemed them “fighters for freedom” in the continued fight to empower voters.
What is the NVRA?
The NVRA makes it easier for all Americans to register to vote and maintain their registration. In addition to ensuring that states provide voter registration, the legislation mandates that Americans be allowed to register to vote when they apply for a new driver's license or renew their license. It requires states to offer voter registration at offices that provide public assistance and state-funded programs serving persons with disabilities. Finally, it guarantees that eligible citizens can register to vote-by-mail through a state voter registration form or a national form maintained by the Election Assistance Commission. It ensures voters are also informed if their applications are accepted or rejected.
Further, the NVRA sets standards for how states maintain their lists of registered voters or voter rolls. States must identify ineligible voters who moved to a new jurisdiction or have passed away. They also require that any removal of voters from the rolls not be done within 90 days of a federal election. The League supports list management practices that are transparent, accurate, and fair, and the provisions in the NVRA help guide states to ensure that list maintenance achieves those goals.
Biden’s Executive Order & Fighting for the NVRA Today
May 20 marks the 30th anniversary of the NVRA's signing into law. Thirty years of the NVRA have allowed millions of Americans to register to vote and ensured that states promote voter registration through normal government processes. But the law has also been challenged by attempts to attach citizenship requirements to voter registration, block registration at motor vehicle centers, roll back list maintenance practices in the law and avoid compliance altogether.
Through it all, the League continues to fight in courts to protect and enforce the NVRA and prevent further erosion of this landmark legislation. And in Congress, we continue to push them to implement tried and true state policies like same-day registration, automatic voter registration, and online voter registration at the national level.
One way that the League continues to fight to expand voter registration is by promoting Executive Order 14019, Promoting Access to Voting, which President Biden issued on March 7, 2021. The executive order (EO) instructs federal agencies to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.” Through our work with coalition partners, the League has worked to advocate for the expansion of voter registration and promote voting rights at agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, US Customs and Immigration Services, the Board of Prisons, and the General Services Administration. The coalition has also worked with other agencies to move their commitments forward.
On the second anniversary of the EO in March 2023, the League joined our partners to issue a progress report on ten agencies towards the commitments they made under the EO. While there are agencies on the right track, it’s clear that there is much work to be done for the EO to be fully implemented at the agency level. The report estimates that if the agencies could integrate high-quality voter registration opportunities for the people they serve, an additional 3.5 million voter registration applications would be generated annually. If fully implemented, this EO would go a long way toward fulfilling the federal government's original promise when it passed and enacted the NVRA thirty years ago.
To continue fulfilling Motor Voter's promise, we must keep striving to break down the systemic barriers to registering to vote and getting to the ballot box. The NVRA and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) are two of the most significant pieces of legislation that have helped us do that in the last sixty years. We cannot let the tireless work of the advocates who came before us be for naught. The League will continue to push for reforms that allow voters to access registration and the ballot box. We hope you will join us and support our work.
The Latest from the League
Very much like life, there have been challenges often, but with each test, the NVRA has uncovered valuable lessons on how to remain standing.
The Leadership Conference organized a letter requesting federal agencies to strongly implement President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order promoting access to voting.
LWV of Florida and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP filed suit in federal court against Florida’s Secretary of State, charging that the state’s voter registration application violates the NVRA.