Understanding Voter Registration Data

Who votes in Washington?

View registered voter data and statistics reports that are updated monthly.

Approximately 90% of the state's voting eligible population is registered to vote, according to the statistics gathered by Michael P. McDonald's United States Elections Project in 2020.

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 10 – 15% of the population moves;
  • Approximately 94,000 people turn age 18;
  • Approximately 50,000 – 60,000 people die; and
  • Approximately 40,000 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 2014;
  • Become inactive when the voter moves in February 2015 and fails to notify the County Auditor;
  • Become active again when the voter updates his or her registration in July 2015;
  • Become inactive when the voter moves again in March 2016; and
  • Be cancelled in 2019 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 cancelled 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 cancelled by a computer.  Registrations can only be cancelled 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 real time. The purpose of the Statewide Voter Registration Database is to track who is currently eligible to vote for each of the election dates every year.  For example, which voters are registered and therefore eligible to vote in the February 2020 election, March 2020 election, and April 2020 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.

For more information about active, inactive, and cancelled voter registration data, contact the State Elections Division.

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.  For those who want to conduct their own tailored research, a copy of the statewide list of voters can be requested at Washington Voter Registration Database Extract.

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 VoteWA voter portal allows voters to register to vote, confirm an existing registration, or update an address. 

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 Register to Vote in Washington State.

Where can I find the state and federal laws that govern voter registration?

RCW 29A.08, WAC 434-324, and 52 U.S.C. 20501.