LAW REVIEW 1063
Motor Voter Law and
By Scott J. Rafferty,
Captain Samuel F.
Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
What is the “Motor Voter” law?
How is that law pertinent to voting by military personnel and veterans?
is the colloquial appellation for the National Voter Registration Act of 1993
(NVRA), Public Law Number 103-31. The
NVRA is codified in title 42, United States Code, sections 1973gg through
1973gg-10. This federal law overrules
state laws that required (prior to the 1995 effective date of the NVRA) that
applicants for voter registration appear in person before election
officials. It is now possible, in every
state, to register to vote by mail.
applies to 47 states and the District of Columbia. Minnesota and New Hampshire are exempt
because they have permitted voters to register to vote at the polls and then
vote the same day since prior to the enactment of the NVRA. North Dakota has no voter registration.
also provides that designated government offices must offer individuals doing
business with those offices the opportunity to register to vote. In the 15 years since the NVRA went into
effect in 1995, millions of Americans have registered to vote while applying
for or renewing driver’s licenses—this accounts for the “motor voter”
appellation. State Departments of Motor
Vehicles (DMVs) offer voter registration forms to persons doing business with
the DMV. The individual can complete the
form and turn it in to the DMV, which is then responsible for turning over the
completed form to the proper voter registration office. But this convenience is not limited to the
DMV—it applies when dealing with other benefit programs.
Order 12926, section 2, requires military recruiters to distribute voter
registration forms upon request and accept completed forms and transmit them to
local voter registration offices. Under
the Executive Order, recruiters perform this function not only for potential
recruits who visit recruiters to obtain information about possibly joining a
service, but also to members of the public who may find it convenient to
register to vote in this way. Most recruiting
stations are located in public places, like shopping centers and strip
malls. The apparent rationale for going
beyond the requirements of the NVRA is to generate traffic for recruiting
offices, which are sometimes lonely places.
Some of the folks who come in to recruiting offices to register to vote
might join the military or might refer others, like adult sons and
Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) has resisted participating in NVRA
activities, contending that such activities are inconsistent with the DVA
mission, will take away scarce resources from providing health care to
veterans, and will entangle DVA staff in political contests. We believe that the DVA cost estimates are
grossly excessive and that predictions of disruptions are far-fetched.
We want DVA
offices to offer veterans the opportunity to register to vote when dealing with
those veterans with respect to claims, medical care, and other official
business. As we explained in Law Review
1063 (the immediately preceding article), this activity is especially needed
for veterans who reside long-term on DVA campuses. If the DVA will not assist these persons in
registering to vote, and if the DVA prevents third parties (including state and
local election officials) from entering DVA campuses to perform this function,
those elderly or disabled long-term residents will likely be
disenfranchised. The best time to offer
the veteran the opportunity to register to vote, or to reregister or to change
the mailing address for voter registration, is upon his or her admission to the
If the DVA offers voter registration services to veterans doing other
business with the DVA, will the DVA thereby be obligated to offer that same
service to non-veterans? Will the non-veteran
have the right to insist upon entering a DVA campus solely for the purpose of
registering to vote?
No. The NVRA requires government offices to offer
the opportunity to register to vote to members of the public who are otherwise
doing business with the government agency, like the driver’s license applicant
registering to vote while renewing her driver’s license. The fact that the President has directed DOD
to allow members of the public to register to vote through military recruiters,
whether or not they are visiting the recruiting office for some other purpose,
in no way means that the NVRA binds the DVA or other government agencies to
adopt similar policies.
recruiting stations are in public places, like shopping centers and strip malls. Most DVA facilities are on limited-access
campuses. Members of the public are
unlikely to seek voter registration assistance on DVA campuses, so requiring
the DVA to provide this service to non-veterans would serve no useful
purpose. We believe that the DVA has
raised this issue as a “red herring” in its unreasonable opposition to
participating in voter registration activities.
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