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The NVRA: A Q&A For Human Services Professionals

Naila Awan

What the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) is and what its obligations are on human services professionals

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.   


What is the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)?

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.


What states are covered by the NVRA?

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.


What is Section 7 of the NVRA?

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).  


What public assistance programs are covered under Section 7?

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.


What does Section 7 require?

In order to fulfill their voter registration obligations, each public assistance agency must:

  1. distribute voter registration application forms with each covered transaction;
  2. assist applicants in completing the voter registration forms, unless such assistance is refused by the applicant; and
  3. accept completed voter registration application forms and forward them to the appropriate election official.

Moreover, each designated agency must:

  1. inquire of the applicant, in writing, whether he or she would like to register to vote or change his or her voter registration address;
  2. distribute a voter registration application form with each covered transaction, unless the individual applicant or client affirmatively opts out of voter registration by declining in writing to register to vote;
  3. inform the applicant, in writing, that the decision to register or decline to register to vote will not affect the amount of public assistance provided by the agency; and
  4. provide assistance in completing the voter registration forms to the same degree the agency provides assistance in completing its own forms.

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.


Does voter registration need to be provided as part of all public assistance applications, renewal, recertification, and change-of-address transactions regardless of where or how they take place?

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].

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