Monday, May 20, marks the 20th anniversary of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), the monumental legislation that protects and enhances the ability of Americans to register to vote. The milestone comes as the League of Women Voters and fellow voting rights advocates await a Supreme Court decision on the pivotal case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council (ITCA), which will impact the voter registration process for millions of Americans.
Commonly known as “Motor Voter,” the NVRA streamlined the confusing array of state laws that hindered the voter registration process. The law made it easier for Americans to register to vote by requiring states to provide voter registration opportunities when citizens obtain a driver’s license or seek services at other government agencies, as well as through mail-in registration. The NVRA also plays a crucial role in preventing states from passing restrictive laws that could prevent eligible citizens from registering to vote. What’s more, the national mail-in registration form is integral to the many citizen-led voter registration drives that register millions of eligible Americans each year, many of which are conducted by the nearly 800 state and local Leagues across the country.
The NVRA was designed to open the democratic process to millions of Americans — and it has succeeded in doing so since its passage 20 years ago. Yet as we celebrate the NVRA’s anniversary and its proven record of increasing access to voter registration, a critical court case threatens to limit its essential protections. Arizona v. ITCA, on which the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in March, could leave the voter registration process vulnerable to new forms of political manipulation. In efforts to protect the NVRA and American’s ability to register to vote, the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court and the League of Women Voters of Arizona is an organizational plaintiff in the case.
The League of Women Voters was a key player in the passage of the NVRA, and we continue to work for an inclusive and informed electorate through the voter registration application form and important voter information on our online election website, VOTE411.org, and the hundreds of in-person independent voter registration drives conducted by League members each year. In our voter registration work, we routinely focus on registering underrepresented voters, including minorities, new citizens and young voters. In order to reach all eligible voters, we host registration drives everywhere from bus stops and baseball games to local high schools and naturalization ceremonies. As the doorway to getting folks to the polls, the NVRA provides the crucial first step in making our democracy work. The NVRA is critical in increasing access to the vote and adding more voices to our electorate.
Right now, as the school year is wrapping up and a new class of graduates is entering the electorate, we must work to make sure young people are registered to vote and are able to have their voices heard on the issues that matter to them.
Help us celebrate the 20th anniversary of the NVRA by encouraging new graduates in your life to register to vote and become active participants in our democracy.
At the NVRA’s bill-signing ceremony in 1993, President Bill Clinton praised the League of Women Voters and fellow voting rights advocates for helping create the nation’s “newest civil rights bill.” Twenty years later, we remain committed to making voter registration more accessible to all eligible citizens and we hope the Supreme Court joins us in protecting every American’s right to vote.
by Elisabeth MacNamara, President, League of Women Voters of the United States
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