Automatic registration leads to dramatic rise in Georgia voters

Tribune Content Agency

ATLANTA — Georgia’s voter registration rate has boomed since the state launched automatic voter registration seven years ago, jumping from 78% to a high of 98% of the eligible population signed up to vote, according to a study released Wednesday.

The report by the Center for Election Innovation & Research said automatic registration has boosted both registration rates and accuracy, with almost all voters verified by both a driver’s license and Social Security number.

There are now a record 7.9 million registered voters in Georgia, up from 6.6 million in fall 2016 when the state began automatically registering eligible citizens at driver’s license offices unless they opted out.

“It’s a tremendous success story of getting eligible citizens onto the voter rolls,” said David Becker, executive director for the Center for Election Innovation & Research, an organization that works with election officials to build voter confidence. “It has resulted in all kinds of efficiencies and anti-fraud, as well as enfranchisement benefits to everybody.”

Voter registration rates peaked in 2020 but have dipped since then, a decline attributed to COVID-19 and a change in the driver’s license application process that temporarily eliminated automatic voter registration last year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on the change to the driver’s license application process that undermined automatic registration by requiring voters to click a button to sign up to vote rather than signing them up by default.

Following the AJC’s reporting, the Department of Driver Services restored the setting to register voters unless they opted out. Voter registrations soared after the department made that change.

About 92% of the eligible population is now registered to vote in Georgia.

Automatic registration helps ensure that Georgians can vote and that their address information is verified and accurate, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office.

“People obviously want to vote, and we’ve taken a way to do it properly and legally that is a level playing field,” Sterling said.

Georgia began automatic voter registration in September 2016 under the administration of Brian Kemp when he was secretary of state. Twenty-two states including Georgia provide automatic registration.

Since automatic registration started, about 73% of new voters have signed up at driver’s license offices. In the 2 1/2 years beforehand, 58% of voters registered at driver’s license offices, with the rest registering either online or with paper forms.

The Center for Election Innovation & Research report on voter registration was researched independently, without state funding, based on state and federal election data.