Use of Personal Income Tax Data in Automatic Voter Registration Systems: A State-by-State Analysis
Each year, more than 150 million American households file their income taxes; What if they could simultaneously register to vote or update their voter registration? While the immediate outlook is bleak for federal legislation to improve voter access, states can take steps to allow their citizens to register to vote while they file their tax returns. Implementing such a policy would reduce the paperwork burden on citizens while helping to ensure the accuracy and completeness of state voters lists.
This report assesses the effectiveness of using state income tax data for automatic voter registration or re-registration, focusing on the level of match between the state income tax form the standard individual income of each state1 and its voter registration requirements. States vary in the data they collect when filing taxes, as well as their voter registration requirements. For each element of the voter registration application, this report identifies states that already collect the required data when filing taxes and proposes revisions to income tax data collection that would bring the procedures closer to voter registration and tax filing. These findings are summarized in a checklist for states wishing to move to a system that allows voter registration or re-registration when filing taxes.
The report also examines which states are best positioned to use state tax data as part of automatic voter registration or re-registration procedures. Some states cannot realistically implement a tax-based voter registration system, either because they do not collect state income taxes or because they do not have no statewide voter registration system. Nine states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming) have no income tax. North Dakota does not require voter registration.
This report therefore focuses on the 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, that collect personal income tax and require voter registration. All of these localities should collect additional information on their tax forms to make voter registration possible. But, particularly to allow already registered voters to update their registration, these changes are minimal and achievable. Twenty-three states already collect most of the data they would need, and eight states collect almost all of the required information. The states most ready to implement voter registration updates at tax time include Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and Virginia. . Implementing large-scale registration would require more significant change; to account for new registrations, the most effective approach would likely be a separate “Schedule VR” voter registration form included with the standard tax form.2