Voter registration is required in every state in the United States and in some foreign countries to maintain a list of all those qualified to vote and to preclude voting frauds. Massachusetts enacted the first registration laws in 1800, and other New England states followed; most of the country had statutes, of lesser or greater restrictiveness, by 1900.

Although guaranteed the right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Southern blacks were long prevented from doing so by various methods ranging from poll taxes to violence. Heroic attempts to rectify this situation were made in Mississippi in 1962 and 1964. Ensuing federal legislation banned the poll tax and permitted federal examiners to register voters.

In the late 20th and the early 21st century, efforts were made to simplify registration to improve voter participation. In 1993, Congress passed the so-called "motor voter" act permitting citizens to register to vote when applying for a driver's license or, simply, by mail. Several states introduced same-day registration; this allowed voters to register at the polling place on election day. Online registration also came into use. In 2012 controversy surrounded laws in 11 states requiring voters at polling places to show identification cards to prove they were the person registered. Republicans said that the measure was necessary to prevent voter fraud; Democrats claimed that it was an effort to suppress the vote.