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Voter Registration Through Human Service Agencies During COVID-19

Brenda Wright

Addressing Ex Parte Medicaid Renewals and SNAP Benefit Extensions

Human services professionals who work to support those facing some of life’s most difficult challenges know the importance of lifting up, in the democratic process, the voices of communities affected by poverty, hunger, lack of resources for health care and other necessities, as well as racial discrimination. Now more than ever, state public assistance agencies play a critical role in providing eligible people with voter registration opportunities, as required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). But providing voter registration during COVID-19 has created new challenges, as well as new opportunities.

It is critically important that voter registration opportunities remain available during ex parte Medicaid renewals, and during automatic renewals or extensions of other human services benefits, such as SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program).

The ex parte Medicaid recertification process is a procedure established by the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act (“ACA”) that requires state Medicaid agencies to renew Medicaid benefits automatically for certain clients using already available data, such as IRS records.

The NVRA requires that agencies provide voter registration access even when using the ex parte renewal process.

The NVRA requires that agencies provide voter registration access even when using the ex parte renewal process. Dēmos is working with several states, including Kansas, Ohio, and North Carolina, to ensure that the voter registration opportunity is incorporated into the ex parte Medicaid renewal process. Dēmos is happy to provide resources to other states to ensure access to voter registration during these transactions.

SNAP procedures also have been altered to temporarily allow all states to extend the timeline for households to apply for SNAP recertification by 6 months. Of course, this is very helpful from the perspective of easing the recertification process for SNAP and other benefits. At the same time, such extensions have resulted in many SNAP recipients not receiving the voter registration services they would have received in the absence of these extensions. It is, therefore, important to ensure that clients of SNAP and other programs (such as WIC, TANF, LIEAP, SCHIP, and others) still have the opportunity to register to vote, or to update their registration address, during automatic benefits extensions or renewals.

If your state has not been providing voter registration opportunities as part of the benefits extensions or renewals for Medicaid, SNAP, and other NVRA-covered public benefits programs, we encourage you to update your procedures to provide the opportunity for voter registration. This can take the form of, but is not limited to:

  • mailing voter registration applications to persons whose eligibility has been automatically renewed;
  • contacting benefits recipients by email, text, or through an online benefits portal to provide them with a link to the state’s online voter registration portal;
  • contacting benefits recipients by robocall to inform them of the upcoming voter registration deadline, the need to register or update their voter registration if they have moved, and how they can register in the state; or
  • providing benefits recipients a link for downloading a voter registration application if the state is not yet providing online voter registration and for requesting that a voter registration application be mailed to them.

Staff at Dēmos are available to assist agencies in implementing these procedures to ensure continued access to voter registration, or to discuss any individual needs of specific states in addressing voter registration requirements during COVID-19. You can contact Dēmos staff members at [email protected].

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