Public assistance agencies in nearly every U.S. state and the District of Columbia are required to provide their clients with the opportunity to register to vote or update their voter registration any time they (i) apply for benefits, (ii) have their benefits renewed or recertified, or (iii) engage in a change-of-address transaction. This requirement does not waiver regardless of whether a transaction occurs in person, automatically, over the internet, by phone, or by other remote means. This is mandated by Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). A Q&A describing the obligations the NVRA places on human services professionals is provided below.
The National Voter Registration Act is a federal law enacted in 1993 that establishes certain requirements related to voter registration and federal elections. Among other things, it sets forth requirements for when states must provide individuals with voter registration opportunities, and restricts when and how names may be removed from the voter rolls.
All states plus the District of Columbia are covered by the NVRA, with the exception of Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. These states are exempt from the NVRA because they had no voter registration requirement, or allowed registration at the polling place on Election Day, prior to the NVRA’s implementation and continuously since then.
Section 7 of the NVRA mandates that each covered state and the District of Columbia “designate as voter registration agencies” all offices that provide public assistance and “State-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities.” These designated agencies are required to provide voter registration opportunities whenever an individual is engaging in a covered transaction (an application, renewal, recertification, or change-of-address transaction).
Although “public assistance” is not defined in the NVRA, some of the largest public assistance programs subject to the NVRA include: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), as well as Medicaid.
In order to fulfill their voter registration obligations, each public assistance agency must:
Moreover, each designated agency must:
Specific language that must be used in order to fulfill these obligations is outlined in Section7(a)(6)(B). The U.S. Department of Justice has provided additional guidance on how to comply with the NVRA on its website, here.
Yes. Section 7 of the NVRA is not limited to in-person transactions. As the U.S. Department of Justice explains:
Many Section 7 designated agencies/offices routinely provide services/assistance such as application for, or renewal of, services or change-of-address notification through the internet, by telephone, or by mail. States should ensure the availability of voter-registration opportunities to individuals using such remote service/assistance opportunities from designated agencies.
Further, automatic transactions, such as the automatic renewal of Medicaid benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, are still covered transactions and, therefore, the NVRA’s voter registration obligations still apply. North Carolina has recently taken action to ensure individuals whose Medicaid benefits are—or have been—renewed receive the voter registration opportunities required by the NVRA, information about which can be found here.
If you have any questions regarding the information above or related to public assistance voter registration, you can contact Dēmos staff members at [email protected].