Explainer: Why We Use Terms Like “Partial AVR” (PAVR) and “Secure AVR” (SAVR) When Talking About Automatic Voter Registration Systems
Automatic voter registration (AVR) is a bipartisan policy that replaces outdated paper-based registration with secure, modern, electronic systems. These new systems automatically register eligible voters and update voter registration information when people apply for or renew their driver’s license or change their address.
Within the world of AVR, there are two available systems. A “front-end” system asks customers about voter registration (either as an opt-in or opt-out question) while they are filling out an application at a state agency, say, someone updating their driver’s license.
The second, a “back-end” system, automatically verifies the eligibility of customers based on documents or other verification that already occurs during an agency transaction. Information on eligible citizens is sent to election officials, who begin the process to register them to vote. Following the transaction, the customer has the opportunity to select a party affiliation or decline to register to vote, often through a mailer. As such, the “back-end” system is truly a more automatic system.
SHIFTING OUR LANGUAGE: INTRODUCING “PAVR” AND “SAVR”
The terms “front-end” and “back-end” are not particularly accessible or illustrative for voters or state agencies alike — they neither accurately describe the differences between the two processes, nor do they particularly illustrate how each system works. At the Institute for Responsive Government, we believe everyday people should be able to understand and partake in systems that make our government more efficient, so to address this concern, we are introducing a new way of describing these two policies:
Secure AVR or SAVR (pronounced “saver”) is the term we will use moving forward to describe what we previously referred to as a “back-end” system.
Partial AVR or PAVR (pronounced “paver”) is the term we will use moving forward to describe what we previously referred to as a “front-end” system.
MORE ON SECURE AVR (SAVR)
The term “back-end” can sound unclear or suspicious – like someone is using a back-door process to register to vote, when in reality, this form of AVR is considered to be the gold standard of AVR. We chose the word “secure” to describe this form of AVR because it’s the only true automatic voter registration system, with built-in layers of verification to ensure the security and integrity of election systems while also promoting accessibility and efficiency.
SAVR saves state money while improving the security, efficiency and accessibility of elections. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Nevada have all implemented a SAVR system, and election experts from both parties continuously praise the security and efficiency the system provides — not only for voter accessibility, but also for clerks, elections offices, and administrations alike.
SAVR is particularly secure because it places additional responsibility of verifying voter eligibility on the state agency rather than the agency customer. This removes the risk of a mistake — where a customer, often in a rush of moving through complex application forms, inadvertently registers to vote when they were not eligible to do so.. This maintains the integrity of the system and protects an individual’s innocent mistake from turning into a legal liability, ensuring that eligible voters who want to get on the rolls have every opportunity to do so while keeping those who don’t belong on the voter rolls off.
MORE ON PARTIAL AVR (PAVR)
PAVR’s name comes from the fact that this process is partially automated – in PAVR systems, the agency customer is asked under penalty of perjury if they are eligible to vote. If the customer claims they are indeed eligible, they are prompted to either opt-in or opt-out of the registration process for voter registration to occur. While this does help to register or update registration for voters, it’s not a truly automatic system.
Many eligible agency customers opt-out for reasons that have nothing to do with eligibility or desire to register. Large percentages of people decline the opportunity to register because they incorrectly believe they are already registered to vote, because they are in a rush to complete the agency transaction, or because they are confused by the question. Similarly, many registered voters decline the opportunity to update because they incorrectly believe their voter registration is current. These unnecessary opt-outs occur in a PAVR system, but not in a fully automated SAVR system.
A helpful way to think about PAVR is that it “paves” the way for a more secure, efficient, and truly automatic AVR system to be adopted in the future. PAVR does help create a basic framework for AVR that ultimately helps improve security, efficiency, and accessibility of a state’s elections on its own. Additionally, states who have adopted PAVR have often already done most of the hard work and can easily adopt a SAVR system with minimal costs. But, while PAVR is preferable to no AVR system at all, it can still be improved upon due to the fact many eligible voters who could be registered or actually need their information updated do not want to spend extra time answering questions about their eligibility status or party affiliation at the state agency.
AVR is a common-sense update to our registration process that uses modern technology to protect the security of our elections, make government more efficient, and ensure every eligible voter has an opportunity to have their voice heard on Election Day. Although PAVR is better than no AVR at all, wherever possible, lawmakers should adopt SAVR.