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Motor Voter Law Yields Results, Some Reproach

Politicians say the law is costly and vulnerable to fraud

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The brick and mortar of US democracy - the number of registered voters - has expanded more in the past two years than at any time in history.

At the time of the 1994 midterm elections, there were 118 million registered voters in the nation. Since then, more than 22 million Americans have registered or re-registered to vote under the National Voter Registration Act, known as the "motor voter" law. That figure exceeds the total number of registered voters in California and New York, the states with the largest electorates. About half of motor voter registrations are new to the voter rolls, says the League of Women Voters and other registration advocates.

While political analysts don't know how many of these new voters will go to the polls or how they will vote there, the potential surge in voting activity could reshape and significantly broaden the popular base for US government. Though some politicians have resisted the law and critics have noted politicians' tendency to apply it selectively, the motor voter law is involving millions of formerly disenfranchised Americans, compelling politicians to pay at least some heed to their opinions and needs.

The law has required states since January 1995 to offer applications for voter registration in motor vehicle departments and social service agencies, including public aid offices, libraries, schools, and military recruitment offices. They must also implement a registration program by mail.

Although the law enjoyed bipartisan support when it passed in 1993, elected officials of every political stripe have vigorously opposed it at the state and national levels. They say it opens the way for fraud, is too costly, and impinges on state rights. Many states have unsuccessfully battled the law in court.


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