Using Motor Vehicle Offices to Meet Critical Needs

Committees of Jurisdiction: Law, Justice, and Ethics; Labor, Veterans’, and Military Affairs; Health and Human Services; Education


DMVPhoto Credit: oregonlive.comStates often face challenges in linking vital, public programs and services to eligible groups—especially when the targeted groups are disparate, hard to identify, or historically difficult to reach. As a result, policymakers have sought to utilize existing state-wide institutions to connect with constituents. An example of this is working with a state department of motor vehicles.

The ability to leverage motor vehicle offices’ name recognition, statewide locations, and database can be an effective way to expand community outreach and link government services to a wide range of residents. Several public programs utilize state driver’s license and motor vehicle registration data to identify eligible participants and promote state services that may be of interest. Collaboration can also lead to increased efficiency for program participants and beneficiaries, through reduced travel, paperwork, and administrative support necessary to enroll residents. In addition, by using motor vehicle service data, states can reduce errors in data collection and storage, and better protect applicant privacy.

There are three prime examples of successfully linking motor vehicle office functions to important services: selective service registration, organ donation, and voter registration.

Selective Service Registration
Federal law requires most young men ages 18 through 25 to register with the U.S. Selective Service System (SSS). SSS registrants are eligible to be conscripted into the military. However, the U.S. moved to an all-volunteer military in 1973, and has not held a draft in more than 40 years.

Young men who fail to register with SSS face legal barriers and ineligibility for several important federal programs and benefits, perhaps for their lifetime. Men who do not register with SSS may find themselves ineligible for programs such as:

  • Student Financial Aid – including Pell Grants, College Work Study, Guaranteed Student/Plus Loans, and National Direct Student Loans.
  • U.S. Citizenship – for immigrants living in the U.S.
  • Federal Job Training – including programs under the Workforce Investment Act, which train young men for jobs requiring vocational skills.
  • Federal Jobs – including those in the Executive Branch of the Federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.

Despite these ramifications, many young men, particularly young men of color, fail to properly register with SSS (often unknowingly), only to learn about the hurdles they face when they are denied key benefits or positions and have little recourse to correct this omission.

To prevent these life-altering consequences, many states have implemented laws to register eligible young men when they receive a state-issued driver’s license. According to SSS, 27 states, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands, have enacted laws to automatically register eligible licensees for SSS. Thirteen states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam have enacted optional registration laws. However, 10 states have neither type of law on the books -- Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Organ Donation
One of the most well-known programs linked to driver’s licensure is organ and tissue donation.   According to Donate Life America, more than 120,000 individuals are awaiting an organ transplant in the United States, including more than 67,000 people of color. Over 1 million organ and tissue transplants are performed annually. Organ and tissue donor registry through driver’s licensure is the most wide-spread registration tool in the nation, with all 50 states and the District of Columbia having laws that allow drivers to opt-in or out-out of being an organ donor when they apply for a driver’s license.

Voter Registration
In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which required state and local governments to expand voter registration opportunities. Section 5 of the NVRA specifically mandates that states offer voter registration at state motor vehicle agencies. This program is known as “motor voter.”

Under NVRA Section 5, each state driver’s license application, renewal, or change of address form must include a section to allow the applicant to simultaneously register to vote or update voter registration information.

To date, 44 states and the District of Columbia have enacted motor voter programs. The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission has indicated that in 2012, more than 20 million voter registration applications were filed through motor voter programs, making it the most effective voter registration program in the nation. Six states (Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) are exempt from NRVA due to exceptions in their state voter registration statutes. NRVA does not apply to U.S. territories.

The success in linking important public programs such as organ donation, selective service registration, and voter registration, highlight the possibilities available to state lawmakers in utilizing state motor vehicle services to increase opportunities for all Americans. Linking important public programs to driver’s licenses improves efficiency, reduces costs, and improves effectiveness.  However, as successful as these programs have been, state legislators still have an important role to make sure that Americans everywhere are afforded the same level of public benefits and services. Fortunately, lawmakers in states that have yet to implement programs like those discussed have a diverse set of proven and effective examples.


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