Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (also known by the acronym NVRA, or, alternatively, as the “Motor Voter Act”) to make it “easier for all Americans to register to vote and to maintain their registration.” Effective in most states as of January 1, 1995, this legislation applied to 44 states and the District of Columbia. Six states -- Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- were exempt from the NVRA's provisions because those states either had no voter-registration requirements or they offered opportunities for election-day registration at polling places.
The NVRA requires states to provide people with an opportunity to submit voter-registration applications for federal (i.e., House, Senate, and Presidential) elections by three principal means:
- by registering to vote at the same time that they apply for, or seek to renew, a driver's license (hence the name “motor voter”);
- by submitting their voter-registration applications by mail, using forms developed jointly by each state and the Election Assistance Commission; and
- by requiring states to offer voter-registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance of any kind.
The NVRA explicitly requires each state to keep its voter-registration rolls accurate and current – and to remove voters' names from those lists when they (the voters) have either been convicted of a disqualifying crime, been adjudged mentally incapacitated, moved to another state, or died. But in practice, the lists contain many names of people who are legally ineligible to vote and who are simply fictitious ("Mickey Mouse," etc.). Such abuses occur because under the Act's provisions:
- when people register by mail they are not required to provide any form of identification;
- when people register in person at a Department of Motor Vehicles or a Social Services office, the government workers who handle their cases are not permitted to challenge their applications.
Moreover, the NVRA makes it quite difficult to purge "deadwood" voters (those who have died or moved away) from the rolls. This greatly increases the potential for, and the incidence of, election fraud. In 1999, for instance, CBS's 60 Minutes aired a report about Californians who had used mail-in forms to register fictitious people, deceased people, or pets, and who then obtained absentee ballots in the names of those "registrants." As a result of such chicanery, the voter rolls in many American cities and counties – in such states as South Dakota, Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Maryland, Iowa, North Carolina, and Missouri – soon included more names than there were residents of voting age in those locales.
The fact that only about 5 percent of all people who register via Motor Voter provisions ultimately bother to go to the polls on election day – coupled with the fact that most states do not require photo IDs at polling booths – means that the NVRA has made it much easier for people to vote in someone else's name, whether in person or by absentee ballot. A single individual can easily vote under other people's names multiple times if he or she wishes.
In June 2011, a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 75% of likely U.S. voters said that voters should be required to show photo identification before being allowed to cast their ballots. This included 85% of Republicans, 77% of voters not affiliated with either major party, and 63% of Democrats. Support for such a law was high across virtually all demographic groups. Just 18% of respondents opposed the requirement.