Motors that move DNA, or that move along DNA, play essential roles in DNA replication, transcription, recombination, and chromosome segregation. The mechanisms by which these DNA translocases operate remain largely unknown. Some double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) viruses use an ATP-dependent motor to drive DNA into preformed capsids. These include several human pathogens, as well as dsDNA bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria). We previously proposed that DNA is not a passive substrate of bacteriophage packaging motors but is, instead, an active component of the machinery. Computational studies on dsDNA in the channel of viral portal proteins reported here reveal DNA conformational changes consistent with that hypothesis. dsDNA becomes longer ("stretched") in regions of high negative electrostatic potential, and shorter ("scrunched") in regions of high positive potential. These results suggest a mechanism that couples the energy released by ATP hydrolysis to DNA translocation: The chemical cycle of ATP binding, hydrolysis and product release drives a cycle of protein conformational changes. This produces changes in the electrostatic potential in the channel through the portal, and these drive cyclic changes in the length of dsDNA. The DNA motions are captured by a coordinated protein-DNA grip-and-release cycle to produce DNA translocation. In short, the ATPase, portal and dsDNA work synergistically to promote genome packaging.