As part of our countdown to National Voter Registration Day on September 26, the EAC is highlighting a variety of resources, data, and other related information about the registration process. An essential component of this is statewide voter registration databases, which are the foundation of the elections process.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 required states to adopt a computerized statewide voter registration list. States responded to this requirement in different ways. Some states adopted a single, central platform at the state level that connected to terminals in local jurisdictions. This type of system is typically referred to as a “top-down” voter registration system.
Other states have a state voter registration database that gathers and aggregates information from their local jurisdictions’ voter registration databases. This type of system is typically referred to as a “bottom-up” system. Other states have what is termed a hybrid system, a system with a mix of top-down and bottom-up characteristics.
The EAC’s 2016 Statutory Overview asked questions of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands about their laws and practices related to election administration, including descriptions of their voter registration systems.
The 2016 overview found a majority of states – 38 – have voter registration databases that function in a top-down manner, meaning that the state has a single platform that collects and stores all voter registration information from jurisdictions.
Nine states have a hybrid system. For example, Texas has 254 counties and 215 of the counties use the Texas statewide voter registration database directly to manage their voter registration data and elections. An additional 39 Texas counties manage their own voter registration data using a third-party vendor. The data from these 39 counties are processed with the state database every night so that all database changes between the state system and each county can be reconciled.
Of the nine states that indicated the use of a hybrid system, three states – Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas – reported that local election offices transmit data to the state daily and five states – Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Washington and Wisconsin – reported that local election offices transmit data in real-time or near real-time. North Carolina did not provide this information.
Six states reported having a bottom-up voter registration system, where local election offices transmit information retained at the local level and compiled at regular intervals to form the statewide system. This transmittal of data is daily in three states – Illinois, Nevada, and Tennessee – and in real-time or near real-time in two states – New York and Ohio. California did not provide this information.
These numbers have remained fairly consistent since the overview was first administered in 2008 and they provide a deeper picture of the different approaches state and local election officials take in managing millions of voter registration records.
|State||Type of Voter Registration Database|
|District of Columbia||Top down|
|New Hampshire||Top down|
|New Jersey||Top down|
|New Mexico||Top down|
|New York||Bottom up|
|Puerto Rico||Top down|
|South Carolina||Top down|
|South Dakota||Top down|
|Virgin Islands||Top down|
|West Virginia||Top down|
1 American Samoa did not respond to the question.
2 North Dakota does not maintain a voter registration list or database. However, they do have a list of previous voters.