Report from US Commission on Civil Rights Highlights Crucial NVRA Section 7 Compliance Requirements

By Archita Taylor September 12, 2016

In August 2016, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report, “Increasing Compliance with Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act,” which offers recommendations for ensuring states meet their obligations under Section 7 of the NVRA, 52 U.S.C. § 20501 et seq. The Commission’s report does two things: it first offers findings from the research conducted into states’ existing compliance with Section 7, and then it provides recommendations for states to come into full compliance with Section 7 requirements.

This report comes at a critical time, ahead of a pivotal presidential election, and in light of many new proposals offered to modernize voter registration and voting in America. It provides important proposals and guidelines for ensuring that all Americans have an opportunity to register and vote.

For a decade now, Project Vote has been working on just the issue the report focuses on: helping states to meet their federal requirements to provide voter registration at certain mandatory and other designated public assistance agencies in states throughout the country. Through advocacy, litigation, and technical assistance, we and our partners have worked with numerous states around the country to bring their public assistance agencies into compliance with Section 7 of the NVRA. In this vein, the Commission’s report offers many recommendations in line with Project Vote’s Section 7 recommendations and best practices.

Among other things, the report proposes:

  • That states should have strong oversight of their NVRA programs, and should designate one point of contact within the State Board of Elections to coordinate the NVRA requirements in the state;
  • Additional designation of agencies not already covered under Section 7, including Indian Health Services, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Increase in resources for the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to states;
  • Greater research and resources dedicated to investing in technology to conduct more accurate data processing, so that states can meet their reporting requirements to the Election Assistance Commission.

Of particular note, the report recommends that the US Department of Health and Human Services should ensure federal Health Benefit Exchanges comply with Section 7 requirements, and that federal employees who assist the public on these exchanges should be trained in their voter registration requirements. Of these federal Health Benefit Exchanges, the report specifically notes the advocacy efforts of Project Vote and its partners in asking that the federal exchanges provide Section 7-compliant voter registration opportunities. As the report notes, citing a letter from Project Vote and its partners to the Obama Administration in October 2015, the move from in-person to online Medicaid applications has led to a decrease in voter registration numbers because federal exchanges do not fully comply with Section 7. Meanwhile, similarly-situated state-run exchanges, like California’s, have agreed to fully implement the NVRA Section 7 voter registration requirements into the state exchange.

This report from the US Commission on Civil Rights offers many of the recommendations Project Vote has been pushing for over the course of the last decade. The Commission’s report lends further credence to these practices as a means to ensure that all Americans are offered meaningful voter registration opportunities, and that voter registration numbers in our country truly reflect our electorate.