WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 7 million Americans have registered to vote since 1994 because of the ``motor voter'' law, the Federal Election Commission says.

As a result, registration among the voting-age population rose to 70.15 percent in 1998 _ the highest percentage in a non-presidential election year since 1970, the commission said Wednesday.

The National Voter Registration Act, which took effect in 1995, was designed to make it easier to register. It required 44 states and the District of Columbia to let people register by mail, when they renew their driver's licenses and when applying for welfare or disability benefits.

But an increase in registration doesn't necessarily mean higher turnout in elections.

Although the motor voter law has created an ``upward pressure in the turnout figure,'' actual turnout declined between 1994 and 1998, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

The percentage of voters declined from 39 percent of those eligible to 36 percent, he said.

The FEC said motor vehicle offices yielded the highest volume of registration applications, 43 percent, while 25 percent of new registrations were by mail.

The number of registered voters rose from 124.6 million in 1994 to 136.6 million in 1998, a 10 percent jump. Some of the increase would have occurred anyway, as the number of people reaching voting age increased, said Bill Kimberling, deputy director of the Office of Electoral Administration at the FEC.

The FEC estimated that about 7 million people registered as a direct result of the motor voter law.

Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, New Hampshire and Wyoming were exempted from the law because they either register voters on Election Day or not at all.

The FEC study also excluded Nevada, which didn't reply to the commission's questionnaire.