Abstract: Using monthly data from the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles from 2017 to 2021, we study a series of reforms to the voter registration process conducted by the DMV between 2018 and 2020. Consistent with studies in behavioral economics about retirement savings, prior to the reforms, a large majority of unregistered DMV patrons declined the opportunity to register when con- ducting a transaction. When voter registration became the clear default option for certain unregistered Colorado DMV patrons in 2020, very few of them subsequently opted out, which resulted in a sudden, large increase in the rate at which DMV patrons registered to vote. Second, the switch to a system of fully automatic updates meant that hundreds of thousands of Colorado registered voters whose addresses otherwise would have been out-of-date suddenly had the correct information on the voter file, obviating the prospect that mail ballots and other election mail go to the wrong address or get lost, or that in-person voters must update their addresses at the polls through same-day voter registration or a provisional ballot. Taken together, our results suggest that with some coordination and investment, DMV offices can be extremely valuable partners in registering voters and maintaining accurate voting lists.
Read the paper: Changing The Default: The Impact Of Motor-Voter Reform In Colorado