Government and Citizens

Voter Registration and Turnout

State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia

Voter Registration and Turnout

Voter registration is a strong indicator of citizen commitment to their communities. Virginia encourages its citizens to register and vote in a variety of ways, from school programs to publicity campaigns.

Why is This Important?

Virginia wants residents who are informed and engaged and who actively participate in their communities. Voting helps to ensure that the results of an election accurately reflect the will of the people; it also serves as a measure of how engaged people are.

How is Virginia Doing?

2006 Voter Turnout by State.  See text for explanation.

There are various ways to look at voter registration and turnout. One method is to measure the number of ballots counted as a percent of the estimated citizen voting age population (CVAP). In 2014, Virginia ranked 31st in the nation, with 36.6 percent of CVAP casting ballots. Leading state Maine had the highest turnout in 2014, with 59.2 percent of CVAP casting ballots. Virginia had a higher voting rate than Tennessee (29.5%), but was lower than both North Carolina (40.9%) and Maryland (41.6%). Average voter turnout in the nation in 2014 was 36.4 percent.

2006 Voter Turnout by Virginia Region.  See text for explanation.

Turnout rates in Virginia’s regions are available for the 2014 national elections using a voting age population (VAP) measure that includes all residents of voting age, rather than just citizens. The Eastern region had the highest VAP turnout rate at 38.5 percent, followed by the Central region at 37.1 percent. The lowest turnout rate was in the Southwest region (29.1%). Total Virginia VAP turnout in 2014 was 33.9 percent, slightly above the national VAP rate of 33.0 percent.

Voter Registration by Region.  See text for explanation.

Registration rates are also available for the voting age population; regionally speaking, they show significant variation across the Commonwealth. Recent years saw registration rates steadily increasing, reaching record highs in 2012, but rates have been declining since then. The Virginia State Board of Elections reported that an average 79.8 percent of Virginia's VAP had active registrations for 2015 state elections; that average was six percentage points lower than in 2012 (85.8%). The Eastern region again had the highest voter registration rate in 2015 with 84.4 percent, while the Valley again had the lowest rate at 74.5 percent.

What Influences Voter Registration and Turnout?

Presidential elections play a significant role in determining voter turnout rates. In years with a presidential election, such as 2008 or 2012, turnout was much higher than years with only congressional or gubernatorial elections, such as in 2006 or 2010. Turnout among all demographic groups in every state closely follows this pattern. Virginia elects its governors in odd years (e.g., 2009, 2013), completely separate from any national-level elections; some speculate that this depresses voter turnout even more.

Citizens are more likely to register and vote the higher the:

  • office being voted on
  • voter's educational level
  • voter's income
  • voter's age

Registered voters employed as civil servants are also more likely to vote.

Citizens may not actually bother to vote if they are disenchanted with government, indifferent, or content with the way things are.

A number of other factors also affect whether people vote, including:

  • cut-off dates for registration
  • the length of time at a new residence
  • convenience of registration and/or paperwork requirements
  • accessibility of polling places and times
  • length of the voting period, including the ability to vote early
  • weather conditions, especially where voting is limited to a single day
  • method of voting, including mail-in ballots and other alternatives

What is the State's Role?

Three state agencies have roles in voter participation in Virginia. The State Board of Elections:

  • administers election laws
  • ensures compliance with campaign finance disclosure
  • manages voter registration processes in Virginia
  • maintains a centralized database of statewide voter registration and election-related data

Since 1996, the Department of Motor Vehicles has helped expedite voter registration by allowing citizens to register to vote when applying for a drivers license; residents can also update voting information when they file a change of address with the DMV.

The Virginia Department of Education includes the importance of civic participation and voting in the Standards of Learning to encourage Virginia's youth to become active participants in the voting process.

Page last modified August 01, 2016
Voter Turnout by State. Voter Turnout by Virginia Region.Voter Registration by Virginia Region.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

The Voting Age Population (VAP) is the estimated number of people 18 years of age and older in an area. The VAP estimate includes people who are ineligible to vote ( e.g., non-citizens, felons), but excludes resident voters living abroad, such as for military or work reasons. Alternatively, Citizen Voting Age Population excludes non-citizens, but does include others who are ineligible to vote, such as felons whose voting rights have not been restored and persons who are incarcerated.

State Voter Turnout using CVAP:  U.S. Election Assistance Commission - Election Administration and Voting Survey.
Note: Alabama was dropped as leading state in 2014 because EAC ballot data does not correspond to that reported on the state's election site.

Virginia Locality Voter Registration using VAP:  Virginia State Board of Elections.
Registration totals are the number of registrations recorded at the close of registration books prior to the November election.

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Voter Activity in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is maintaining.
State Influence:  

National Ranking: In 2014, Virginia ranked 31st nationally for voter turnout of registered citizens (36.6%).

Virginia by Region: Regions varied, sometimes widely, for both voter turnout and registration in 2014, but voter registrations have generally been declining since 2012.

Additional Information

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is an independent, bipartisan commission that oversees voting requirements and serves as a national clearinghouse of information about election administration. Their Election Day Survey Results offer a comprehensive look, based on reports from local registrars across the country, at recent national elections in the U.S.

The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) works to improve public understanding of money's role in Virginia politics through unbiased accounting of political contributions and spending for campaigns, PACs, and the like. VPAP also houses comprehensive data on past elections.

There are scores of organizations devoted to increasing voter registration and turnout, though most are designed to promote a particular political party or special interest. A few strive to provide factual, non-partisan information for voters regardless of political affiliation.  These include:

Virginia 21 seeks to involve young people across the Commonwealth in the political process by providing information, spotlighting policy, and promoting active citizenship and voter registration with a non-partisan agenda.