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States Must Bring All Americans into our Democracy

Jenn Rolnick Borchetta

Today, we reached an important agreement with the state of Oklahoma that will bring comprehensive voter registration opportunities to citizens throughout the state.  

This effort began last summer when—on behalf of the Metropolitan Tulsa Urban League, the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma and Metropolitan Tulsa, and YWCA Tulsa – Demos and partners notified Paul Ziriax, the Secretary of the Oklahoma State Election Board, that it appeared Oklahoma’s public assistance agencies were not offering clients a meaningful opportunity to register to vote.

Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the NVRA) state agencies that provide public assistance must ask clients whether they want to register to vote, offer them voter registration materials and help them complete registration forms. We gathered evidence showing that in Oklahoma these services weren’t being provided.

The number of voter registration applications reported statewide by Oklahoma public assistance agencies dropped 81 percent since the initial implementation of the NVRA in 1995. At the same time, the average monthly participation in the SNAP program, just one of the programs covered by the NVRA, nearly doubled. Only 61 percent of Oklahoma citizens in low-income households were registered to vote in 2012, compared to 81 percent of those in affluent households.

A significant percentage of agency clients we interviewed said that they received no voter registration services. Under the NVRA, they should have.

Oklahoma officials responded by immediately demonstrating a commitment to improving voter registration services. Together, we amicably worked to create a robust roadmap for providing voter registration services across the state’s public assistance agencies. This landmark agreement in a Republican-dominated state shows the bipartisan importance of ensuring the right to vote, and will undoubtedly serve as a model for the region.

You can read the full settlement here.

Through this agreement, Oklahoma has exemplified the principle and promise of the NVRA: States must do their part to bring all Americans into our democracy.