Voting Rights Groups Urge Immediate Action to Provide
Required Registration Services through Federal Health Exchanges
WASHINGTON, DC (October 28, 2015) – Today, in a letter to President Obama, three of the nation's leading voting rights organizations—Demos, Project Vote, and the League of Women Voters—urged the Administration to come into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by providing voter registration to eligible persons through the federally-facilitated health benefit exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
In the letter, the groups—who have previously won many NVRA-enforcement lawsuits—indicated that they are prepared to seek legal recourse if necessary.
"We hope to avoid litigation, but we note that the NVRA includes a private right of action," the letter states.
"This is an important voting rights issue that can no longer be ignored," said Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the U.S.
Today's firmly worded letter follows over two years of advocacy efforts on the part of the organizations regarding ongoing violations of the NVRA. Widely known as the “motor voter” law, the NVRA requires that registration services be offered in tandem with transactions conducted by certain government programs. Its requirements apply to all the health benefit exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
"As many as 1.7 million voter registrations have already been lost because of the Administration's refusal to act," said Michael Slater, president of Project Vote. "With another open enrollment period beginning November 1, hundreds of thousands more Americans will not be offered the voter registration opportunities the law requires," he said.
State-run exchanges have acknowledged their voter registration obligations under the NVRA and are moving into compliance. However, the millions of Americans applying for health insurance in more than 30 states with federally-facilitated exchanges are not being offered any meaningful opportunity to register to vote.
In King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court affirmed that the obligations for state-run exchanges and federally-facilitated exchanges are the same. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said, “State Exchanges and Federal Exchanges are equivalent -- they must meet the same requirements, perform the same functions, and serve the same purposes.”
For more than twenty years the NVRA has proven to be a vital boon to voter registration, with tens of millions of eligible Americans registering to vote through interactions with government agencies. The on-going violation of the law by the federally-facilitated health care exchanges, however, is weakening the impact of this important law.
“From Mississippi to Ohio, and beyond, voter registration applications from low-income persons are dropping because the Administration has eliminated the opportunity to register to vote when people apply for Medicaid or other subsidized health benefits,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Policy and Legal Strategies at Demos. “This is unacceptable. The Administration must act now to correct this injustice.”
“The Administration is actually moving backwards on voter registration because the health exchanges are replacing state Medicaid offices which have successfully conducted voter registration over the years,” said MacNamara.
Prior to the ACA, for example, millions of Medicaid applicants were offered the opportunity to register with every application for benefits. Now, Medicaid is implemented through the exchanges, and—as a result of the Administration’s failures—no Americans signing-up for Medicaid through healthcare.gov are receiving voter registration services.
“The requirements of the NVRA are neither ambiguous nor optional," said Slater. "For over two years we have been asking President Obama to take action on this issue, and yet countless Americans continue to be denied a federally-mandated opportunity to register to vote. Our patience is at an end.”