Voter Registration Data
Who votes in Washington?
As of August 31, 2015, Washington has 3,938,425 active registered voters.
Approximately 76% of the state's voting eligible population is registered to vote, according to a comparison of our latest Voter Registration Database (VRDB) data and the 2010 census data.
Does voter registration data change?
Voter registration data is a “snapshot” in time. Registrations change status on a daily basis as voters move, change their name, become registered, die, or become ineligible to vote due to mental incompetence or a felony conviction. Voter registration data is fluid, not static.
Why is voter registration data fluid?
Washington has a very mobile population. For example, each year:
- Approximately 15% of the population moves;
- Approximately 96,000 people turn age 18;
- Approximately 46,000 – 49,000 people die; and
- Approximately 42,000 people change their name.
Can a voter’s registration status change?
Yes, the same registration may have multiple transactions. For example, the same registration may:
- Become active in 2004;
- Become inactive when the voter moves in February 2005 and fails to notify the County Auditor;
- Become active again when the voter updates his or her registration in July 2005;
- Become inactive when the voter moves again in March 2006; and
- Be cancelled in 2009 if the registration remains inactive through two federal general elections.
What is an “inactive” registration?
If an election-related piece of mail is returned by the post office as undeliverable to the voter at that address, the registration is placed on “inactive” status. A voter who is on inactive status may return to active status at any time by updating his or her address, requesting a ballot, or submitting a new voter registration application. This process is pursuant to state and federal law.
Can an inactive registration be cancelled?
If the registration remains on inactive status through two consecutive federal general elections, the registration is cancelled. This is in compliance with state law and the federal National Voter Registration Act.
Is notice provided to a voter when the status of his or her registration changes?
Yes. Both state and federal law require that a notice be sent to the voter any time a change in the status of a registration occurs.
Can a registration be cancelled if the voter does not vote?
If the voter remains at the same address and chooses not to vote, the registration cannot be cancelled. If the voter moves, however, and election-related mail is returned to the county elections office as undeliverable, the registration will be placed on inactive status. An inactive registration can be cancelled if the voter does not vote in two federal general elections.
Can a registration be “removed” or “purged” for no reason?
No. State and federal law require that a registration only be cancelled if:
- The voter requests that his or her registration be cancelled;
- The registration file duplicates another, more current, registration file for the same voter;
- The registration has been on “inactive” status through two federal general elections;
- The voter is ineligible to vote due to mental incompetence;
- The voter is ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction; or
- The voter dies.
If a registration is cancelled, does that mean that the voter is cancelled?
Not necessarily. A registration file is cancelled if a county or state election administrator discovers that it is out-of-date and duplicates a more current registration. In this case, the outdated registration is cancelled, but the person remains a registered voter under the more current registration file. This frequently happens when a person moves, submits a new registration application, and fails to provide his or her old address on the application.
Do other states cancel a registration if the voter fails to vote?
Yes. The National Voter Registration Act, the federal law that prohibits canceling a registration simply on the basis that the voter failed to vote, does not apply to six states. These states either had no voter registration system (North Dakota), or had election-day registration (Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) by August 1994 so they are exempt from this federal law. Some of these states cancel a registration if the voter fails to vote.
Are registrations canceled by the database?
No. The database can only identify potentially duplicate registrations. The potential duplicates are listed on a county duplicate management file that is managed by each County Auditor's Office. The list of potential duplicates is reviewed by county elections staff to determine whether the two registrations are really the same person. If the staff concludes that the two registrations are the same person, the staff cancels the out-of-date registration. Registrations are not canceled by a computer. Registrations can only be canceled after the file is reviewed by a state or county election employee.
What if a voter wants to know why the status of a particular registration was changed?
If a voter wants to know why the status of a registration changed, or is concerned that a registration was changed in error, a voter can contact the county elections department in the county where the voter is registered to get specific information on a registration file.
How many new people have registered, and how many people have been cancelled?
The Statewide Voter Registration Database provides necessary voter information to county election administrators in near real time. The purpose of the Statewide Voter Registration Database is to track who is currently eligible to vote for each of the six election dates each year. For example, which voters are registered and therefore eligible to vote in the February 2008 election, March 2008 election, and April 2008 election?
The database does not quantify exactly how many new registrations become active each year, or how many registrations are cancelled each year, because the same registration file may change status multiple times within a relatively short period of time, immediately rendering such statistics no longer accurate.
What data does the Secretary of State’s Office have on active, inactive, and cancelled registrations?
When the status of a registration changes, such as from active to inactive, that change creates a transaction in the Statewide Voter Registration Database. The Secretary of State’s Office tracks the number of transactions, in six categories, each month. These statistics are not the number of new people who register to vote each year, or the number cancelled each year, because the same people may change status within that year. Rather, these statistics are the number of registration transactions that occur in each category in each year.
|Transactions that activate or reactivate a registration:
|Transactions that inactivate a registration:
|Transactions that cancel a duplicate registration:
|Registrations cancelled because voter is deceased:
|Registrations cancelled because voter is an ineligible felon:
Transactions that cancel a registration because:
• The registration was inactive through two federal general elections;
• The voter requested to be cancelled;
• The voter moved out of state.
*Transactions as of August 31, 2015
Does the Secretary of State’s Office provide tailored research services?
The Secretary of State’s Office does conduct some general research on voter registration statistics, such as gender, age, and county residence. The Secretary of State’s Office does not provide tailored research at the request of the public. However, a person can obtain a CD of the statewide list of voters to conduct tailored research. The CD is available on a monthly basis by placing an order at: http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/vrdb_order.aspx
What percentage of registration applications are from new voters?
Roughly 40% of the registration applications received are from people who are not already registered. Roughly 60% of the registration applications submitted are from people who are already registered, but who either forget that they are already registered or need to update an address.
The Secretary of State’s Office has a new online program called MyVote that allows voters to confirm whether they are already registered. MyVote also allows voters to update an address if they moved within the same county, eliminating the need to submit a new registration application.
Where can I learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to register to vote?
The Secretary of State’s Office posts information on its website on what is required to be eligible to vote, how to register to vote, the deadlines for registering, and other information at http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/register.aspx
Where can I find the state and federal laws that govern voter registration?
RCW 29A.08, WAC 434-324, and 42 U.S.C. 1973gg.