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National Voter Registration Act Implementation in Indiana: The First Year 1995

prepared by the Indiana Election Commission
December 1995


The first year of National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) implementation has brought together several agencies throughout state and local government. Over 3,000 offices across the state began offering voter registration services in 1995. The Indiana Election Commission commends them for their contributions to the program.

First, and foremost, the circuit court clerks and boards of voter registration throughout the state have had many new responsibilities which they have completed efficiently and effectively. Governmental and other agencies who have given much of their time and support to NVRA implementation include the Office of Governor Evan Bayh, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Family and Social Services Administration, Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana Area Agencies on Aging, Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the Indiana Department of Revenue and the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. We appreciate everyone's efforts to make NVRA implementation in Indiana successful.

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Over 310,000 Hoosiers registered to vote, or updated their voter registration, in 1995. Almost 250,000 unregistered Hoosiers became registered this year. The total number of registered voters increased substantially between 1994 and 1995, from 2,976,255 to 3,132,915. This increase is especially impressive considering the fact that 1995 was a municipal election year. As we approach next year's presidential election, the total number of registered voters in Indiana already exceeds the average in both mid-term and presidential election years (2,772,333 and 2,976,778 respectively).

As we look back on the first year of NVRA implementation, we plan to consistently improve procedures and inter-agency cooperation, and look forward to even larger gains in the future.

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993

The federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 had three overall objectives: to increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office, to protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring that accurate and current voter registration rolls are maintained, and to enhance the participation of eligible citizens as voters in elections for Federal office.

The Act pursued these objectives by: expanding the number of locations and opportunities whereby eligible citizens may apply to register to vote; requiring voter registration file maintenance procedures that, in a uniform and nondiscriminatory manner, identify and remove the names of only those individuals who are no longer available to vote; and providing certain "fail-safe" voting procedures to ensure that an individual's right to vote prevails when an individual moves within a community before election day.

NVRA Legislation in Indiana

On March 1, 1995, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation which established procedures for statewide implementation of the National Voter Registration Act in all state and local elections. To achieve the federal and local objectives, many new procedures were established.

Voter Registration

The number of locations available for people to register to vote were expanded significantly. There are two ways in which voter registration can take place: full-service voter registration at a designated agency and by mail-in voter registration.

Full-Service Voter Registration

Full-service voter registration agencies are agencies where the employees ask clients/applicants whether or not they would like to register to vote during their visit. These employees offer assistance in filling out the form, and the agency returns it to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing. The agencies required by law to offer this service are:

  • Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) license branches
  • Certain public assistance offices, including:
    • Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Offices
    • Family and Social Service Administration (FSSA) Division of Family and Children (DFC) Offices
  • Disability offices
    • Indiana Area Agencies on Aging
    • FSSA Division of Disability, Aging and Rehabilitation Services Offices
  • Armed Forces Recruitment Offices
  • Board of Registration Offices that are not located in the same building as the principal office of the circuit court clerk or board of registration office
  • Workforce Development Offices offering unemployment compensation (effective 1/1/96)
  • Certain City Clerk or Clerk-Treasurer or Town Clerk-Treasurer Offices (depending on size of the town and services provided at the office)

The procedure for full-service voter registration at any agency is uniform. When a client visits the office to 1) apply for assistance/service, 2) recertify assistance/service, or 3) change an address used for assistance/service, the client must be asked, "If you are not registered to vote where you live now, would you like to apply to register to vote here today?" The employee will assist the applicant with the registration form, if requested. When the client completes the registration form, s/he will receive a receipt of registration for verification purposes. If the client chooses not to register, s/he will complete and sign a declination form. The registrations and declinations are then forwarded to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing, within 5 days of completion of the form, by hand delivery or certified mail.

State law provides that an employee or volunteer of a full-service voter registration site shall not do any of the following:
  1. Seek to influence an applicant's political preference or party registration.
  2. Display any political preference or party allegiance, including any pictures, photographs, or other likenesses of any currently elected federal, state, county, or local official.
  3. Make any statement to an applicant or take any action the purpose or effect of which is to discourage the applicant from registering to vote.
  4. Make any statement to an applicant or take any action whose purpose or effect is to lead the applicant to believe that a decision whether or not to register has any bearing on the availability of services or benefits.

Mail-In Voter Registration Form Distribution

The second way in which an individual can register to vote is by returning a mail-in form. Several sites were designated as Mail-In Form Distribution Sites in the Indiana law. These agencies have self-mailer voter registration forms available for clients to take with them. These sites include:

  • BMV license branches (for those who are not requesting a driver's license or identification card)
  • Certain disability offices (Community Mental Health Centers)
  • Circuit Court Clerks' offices (if the office does not provide full-service voter registration)
  • Township Trustees' offices
  • Public Libraries and County Contractual Libraries
  • State Higher Educational Institutions
  • School Corporations with public secondary schools
  • County Extension Educators' Offices
  • Certain City Clerk or Clerk-Treasurer or Town Clerk-Treasurer Offices (depending on size of town and services provided at the office)*

In addition to the above sites, the Indiana Department of Revenue has placed two mail-in voter registration forms taxpayer in their 1996 income tax booklet mailed to over 1.9 million individual households. Any other site may provide mail-in voter registration forms to their customers/clients. Forms are available from the county voter registration office, or from the Indiana Election Commission (317/232-3939 or 800/622-4941). Mail-in voter registration forms can be used by anyone to register others to vote.

Voters must be registered at least 29 days before the election date in order to be eligible to vote. A hand- delivered voter registration form must be received by the county voter registration office by the deadline date to be considered for eligibility. A voter registration application which is processed in a full-service voter registration agency, during the application process, and submitted to an employee of that agency, will be processed before the election if it is completed in the appropriate office by the deadline date. Mail-in voter registration forms must be postmarked by the deadline date. Any application is subject to eligibility and residency requirements before it is approved.

Voter List Maintenance

In addition to voter registration efforts, the NVRA changed the procedures for voter list maintenance. Declinations received by a county voter registration office must be retained for at least two years. Registered voters can no longer be purged simply for staying home on consecutive election days. Voters are removed from a voter list (1) if they register in a new Indiana county or in another state, (2) if they request to be removed from the voter list, (3) if they are convicted and incarcerated, or (4) if they die. When a county voter registration office receives a registration application with a previous voter registration address listed, a copy of the form must be forward to either the appropriate Indiana county, or to the Indiana Election Commission for out-of-state cancellations. After November 3, 1998, voters must be classified as "active" or "inactive" for voter registration list maintenance purposes, based on whether the voter voted during any of the last four years or has responded to a change of residence notice.


Finally, the Indiana legislation implementing NVRA made several changes to make the political process more accessible to all. Residence requirements were amended to ensure that citizens with a non-traditional residence, including the homeless, could register to vote. "Fail-safe" procedures were established to ensure that registered voters could participate in the political process if their registration forms were lost or misplaced through bureaucratic error. Emergency absentee ballot voting can be approved by the Election Commission. Procedures were also established to ensure that those voters who simply changed their residence may transfer their voter registration at the polling place.

Impact of Motor Voter on Voter Registration in Indiana

Indiana registered the first voter in the country under "Motor Voter" when the NVRA went into effect January 1, 1995. Since then, there has been a great deal of voter registration activity in the state, especially considering that 1995 is a municipal election year.


Number of Full-Service Voter Registration Sites
(includes State unemployment compensation offices, which begin offering registration on January 1, 1996)
Number of Mail-In Registration Distribution Sites1,971
Total Voter Registration Sites3,091


Number of "New" Voter Registrations**235,284
Number of "Updated" Voter Registrations**75,529
Total Number of "New" and "Updated" Voter Registrations**310,813


Average for Mid-Term Elections (1950 - 1994)2,772,333
Average for Presidential Elections (1948 - 1992)2,967,778
Current Total (approximate as of October 1995)3,132,915

Voter Registration at Public Assistance Agencies

Voter registration at public assistance agencies best demonstrates the intent of NVRA legislation: to register those citizens who previously were not afforded convenient access to the process. Indiana's progress in public assistance voter registration has been phenomenal. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an organization which has been tracking voter registration at public assistance agencies across the country, found that Indiana performed at the second highest rate in the country for the first nine months of 1995. Using the number of food stamp applications as a measure of public assistance applicants, ACORN found that Indiana had registered over 32% of applicants, just slightly behind Missouri.

The full cooperation of the staff of many agencies has contributed to this success. Both the Division of Family and Children offices of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and the Indiana State Department of Health's WIC offices have been working hard to register over fifty-five thousand public assistance applicants to vote.

Voter Registration at License Branches

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), the "star" of "Motor Voter," has done an outstanding job of continuously working to improve NVRA implementation. The BMV administration has implemented many innovative strategies that have led to an increase of almost 300% in the number of voter registration applications completed at license branches since the start of 1995.

For More Information

Indiana Election Commission: Bruce Northern, NVRA Coordinator317/233-5247 or 1-800-622-4941
Bureau of Motor Vehicles: Jim Staples, NVRA Coordinator317/233-0186

*City and town clerk-treasurer offices' duties vary according to their size and the services they provide. A town clerk-treasurer's office in a town of fewer than 3500 people is a mail-in voter registration form distribution site. A city clerk or clerk-treasurer's office, or town clerk-treasurer's office of a town of over 3500 people, is a full-service voter registration site if and only if that office accepts applications for any license or permit. If that office does not deal with licenses or permits, the county election board shall designate another office of the city or town that does accept applications for permits or licenses as a full-service voter registration site.

**Several counties have not yet reported voter registration data; actual numbers are higher