In October of 2011, the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its guidelines regarding the provision of voter registration applications at naturalization ceremonies; and for the first time ever, the USCIS has committed to providing the opportunity to apply to register at every single administrative naturalization ceremony in the country.
Voter Registration for New Americans outlines what this milestone means for new citizens, election administrators, voter registration groups, and USCIS officials:
- For New Citizens: In 2008, 71.8 percent of native born Americans were registered to vote, while just 60.5 percent of naturalized Americans were registered -- the new USCIS guidance, which ensures that each new American will be encouraged and able to register to vote the moment he or she becomes a citizen, has the potential to greatly ameliorate this disparity and increase the number of new Americans who are registered to vote.
- For State/Local Elections Officials: While many elections officials make the effort to attend naturalization ceremonies, the new guidance is a call for all elections administrators, as voter registration experts, to increase their activities and dedicate significant staff time to cover as many ceremonies as possible.
- For Voter Registration Groups: This new guidance makes clear that nonpartisan organizations that adhere to USCIS rules can provide voter registration assistance at naturalization ceremonies, thereby helping to fill in when state and local officials are unable to attend.
- For USCIS: In the case where neither elections officials nor registration groups can be present, or when there is insufficient room for such groups to operate, USCIS will undertake responsibility for ensuring that all new citizens receive voter registration forms. USCIS officials should endeavor to coordinate the three potential registration groups and make the voter registration process a part of the naturalization ceremony.