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How We Register


Priscilla Slaughter, of Seattle, lets out a little cheer and raises her arms in celebration after dropping in her ballot at a ballot drop box Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Seattle. Washington state's all-mail-in balloting requires voters to have their ballots post-marked by Nov. 6 or dropped off at a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day. The Secretary of State's office predicts that 81 percent of the state's 3.9 million registered voters will cast ballots this year.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

If you're between the ages of 18 and 24, chances are you registered to vote when you visited the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you're over the age of 65, you probably registered to vote at some other government office.

Those are the findings of a new Census Bureau survey that asked Americans how they registered to vote. As it turns out, younger voters are much more likely to register when they get a driver's license, at their school or university campus, or online.

Contrary to popular belief, which suggests same-day voter registration overwhelmingly helps younger voters -- particularly college students -- sign up to cast a ballot, it turns out that a higher percentage of seniors register on Election Day than younger voters. More than seven percent of voters over the age of 65 said they had registered on Election Day, compared with 5.3 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24.


Midwesterners are the most likely to have registered to cast a ballot on Election Day. Three of the eight states that allow same-day registration -- Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- are in the Midwest, where almost 14 percent of voters said they took advantage of those late registration laws. Less than 5 percent of voters in the Northeast, South or West registered on Election Day.

The Census data show that registering at the DMV is by far the most common way we sign up to vote; nearly a quarter of all voters said they had registered while getting a license, a function of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. That law, commonly known as the Motor Voter Act, requires states to make voter registration forms available at the DMV.

The data also show that white voters are two and a half times more likely to register at a county or government office than Asian or Hispanic Americans, while those minority groups tend to register most by mailing in a form.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow voters to register entirely online, though that practice is still catching on slowly, according to the Census data. About 5 percent of those between 18 and 44 years old have registered online, and those who have lived in their present home for less than two years are more than three times as likely to have signed up to vote on a computer than those who have lived in a home for longer than three years (Not surprising, given that online registration is still relatively new). Westerners are twice as likely to have registered online as residents of any other region; Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, new Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington are among the 17 states that allow voters to register online, and Hawaii will soon implement online registration.

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