The one-person, one-vote principle emerges mainly from Supreme Court interpretations of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and subsequent legislation.

In addition, starting with the 1960s civil rights legislation, Congress gradually expanded federal oversight of election administration and registration provisions, although states continue to have considerable discretion in how to implement federal requirements. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aims to broadly protect voter rights by prohibiting discriminatory voting practices and by preventing an individual from being denied the right to vote “because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under the State law to vote in such election.” Subsequent legislation aimed at facilitating voter registration and increasing the accessibility of absentee ballots for particular classes of voters includes the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act of 1986.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) added two requirements to voter registration. The first was to increase voter registrations by requiring applications to be made available at a number of physical locations—motor vehicle agencies, all offices that provide public assistance or services to persons with disabilities, other places that states could designate (for example, public libraries), and nongovernmental offices that agree to serve as voter registration sites—and by mail. The second focused on the maintenance of voter lists by establishing rules under which names could be removed from the voter registration list. It also mandated that states monitor and report on their implementation of the NVRA. Figure A.1 illustrates the various list maintenance options under the NVRA.

Following the passage of the NVRA, a variety of proposals were made to further enhance voter registration by the creation of centralized statewide voter registration databases. Following the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in 2002 to undertake a number of electoral reforms.

HAVA aimed to improve election administration by allocating funds to upgrade and certify voting systems and by creating the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to provide voluntary guidance to states. Another goal of HAVA was to establish more uniformity within individual states and to empower the states to take a stronger role vis-à-vis local election officials. Finally, HAVA included several provisions related to voter registration databases. It required states to shift to centralized voter registration lists at the state level and away from the estimated 3,000, mostly locally administered, voter registration lists. It requires that each state’s database contain the name and registration information of each legally registered voter in the state and that each legally registered voter be assigned a unique identifier. HAVA specifies that the state list is the official voter registration list for federal elections. It also requires election officials to perform regular maintenance regarding the accuracy and completeness of the registration lists.5


The tensions that gave rise to laws related to voter registration persist today. In an ideal world, voter registration lists would include all those individuals eligible to vote and none of the individuals not eligible to vote. In addition, all of the data in the database would be factually correct. For purposes of this report, the term “accuracy” refers to the factual correctness of the data that exist in the database and also the notion that the database contains none of the individuals not eligible to vote. Completeness refers to the presence in the database of all individuals who should be in the database. If the database is perfect, it is both 100 percent accurate and 100 percent complete—that is, all of the data in the database are correct (and thus the database contains no individual who should not be in the database), and the database includes all of the individuals who should be in the database. Notice that in this formulation,


HAVA uses the term “accuracy” to mean a list both from which ineligible individuals have been eliminated and for which safeguards have been established to ensure that eligible individuals have not been improperly eliminated.

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