In 2016, what stands between people and their right to vote?

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An election official answers a question for a voter on November 6, 2012 in Mansfield, Texas. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

An election official answers a question for a voter on November 6, 2012 in Mansfield, Texas. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Two decades ago, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act to remove barriers to becoming a voter. In a newly released report the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights asks if states are doing a better job today.

According to the report, two years after the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 was implemented, social services agencies enrolled 2.6 million new voters. Public assistance and disability benefit offices served as a critical outreach point where Hispanics and blacks are respectively three and four times more likely to register to vote than whites.

Since then, that promising rate began to fall, said Martin Castro, who chairs the bipartisan commission.

“Right now, you see so many of the fundamental issues that we thought we had fought for and won being relitigated,” Castro told the NewsHour. “We’re fighting a lot of the same battles.”

By 2006, the voter registration rate dropped by as much as 80 percent in some states, Castro said. That year, only 528,000 new voters were registered at public assistance offices, according to the report. By 2014, it increased to 1.6 million new registered voters, only two-thirds of that initial success.

Low registration numbers are intertwined with compliance problems, according to the commission’s report. Social services staff forget to offer applications to register voters, don’t keep them on hand or don’t receive training. One effective way to boost voter registration is litigation, such as when Department of Justice or public interest group files a lawsuit against a state, the report said.

“We’re fighting a lot of the same battles.”

Many states still require paper registration — which can be expensive, misplaced or lost — rather than registering a voter automatically when they apply for a driver’s license, electronically or online. Earlier this year, Oregon implemented its motor voter program, automatically enrolling thousands of new voters. The commission said more states should do the same, calling it the “most efficient and cost-effective registration process.”

The commission recommended that Congress should fund “a single point of contact” to streamline each state’s National Voter Registration Act duties, bolster databases to support expanding voter registration records and fund the Department of Justice to provide states with more related training for social services workers.

Between 2009 and 2010, These States Registered the Most Voters

    • 246,923

Ohio

    • 150,526

New York

    • 124,709

Tennessee

    • 121,037

Missouri

    • 72,128

North Carolina

    • 54,071

Illinois

    • 46,630

California

    • 39,020

Kentucky

    • 37,898

Colorado

    • 32,368

Virginia

Source: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

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