California Makes Historic Leap to Bring Millions into the Democratic Process

In a move that leads the nation in reducing barriers and expanding opportunities for voter registration, California’s Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, is designating the state’s new Health Benefit Exchange, Covered California, as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). In doing so, Covered California will reach millions of Californians who might not otherwise be given the opportunity to register to vote and participate in our democracy.

[Lea el artículo, en español, aquí.]   [View the ACLU Voting Right Project’s toolkit for implementation.]

“The timing could not be more ideal,” said Lori Shellenberger, director of the Voting Rights Project of the ACLU of California. “Covered California is already leading the country in implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Secretary Bowen’s decision to include the state’s Health Benefit Exchange as a voter registration agency is one of the most significant voter registration policy decisions in the state’s history and will bring millions of Californians into the democratic process in our state. We are hopeful that many other states will follow her innovative lead.”

The Secretary’s voter registration agency designation comes at a time when Covered California is developing its online, phone and in-person application process for an anticipated October 1st launch date. By incorporating voter registration services into all of its application processes, Covered California will lead the nation by offering voter registration services to millions of consumers from the outset.

To reduce barriers to and expand opportunities for voter registration for people who often slip through the cracks and are inadvertently excluded from our democracy, the National Voter Registration Act requires public assistance offices and state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities to offer voter registration services to applicants and clients at every agency and office in each state in the country. California is the first state to designate its Health Benefit Exchange as a voter registration agency under the NVRA.

As many as six million Californians are eligible to apply for or renew their health coverage through Covered California. “Because of the Secretary of State’s leadership, we could see as many as 68 million people enfranchised across the country if other states follow suit and designate their Health Benefit Exchanges as voter registration agencies,” said Shellenberger.

The ACLU of California initiated its Voting Rights Project, in part, because the state has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the nation. Nearly six million Californians are eligible to vote but remain unregistered. The project’s staff members are eager to support the Secretary of State and Covered California to ensure full and meaningful implementation of the NVRA through our state’s Health Benefit Exchange.

Read more about the ACLU of California’s efforts to expand voter registration rates under the NVRA.

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