By: Jean Merl
Heading off a lawsuit over compliance with a federal voting rights law, California officials have agreed to help millions of state residents register to vote.
Under a deal announced Monday by several voting-rights groups, the state will send voter registration cards to nearly 3.8 million Californians who have applied for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The move will ensure that many residents can complete or update their registration in time for the June 3 primary election, representatives of the groups said, and bring the state into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The law requires that certain state offices provide clients with registration opportunities.
The Department of Motor Vehicles and state offices that aid low-income mothers and the disabled are also among the agencies required to provide registration services.
The accord resulted from negotiations between the state and the ACLU of California and other groups representing the League of Women Voters of California, Young Invincibles and several individuals.
“Many eligible voters fail to register due to lack of access and opportunity,” Jennifer A. Waggoner, League of Women Voters president, said in a statement announcing the settlement. “Offering voter registration to the millions of people enrolling in healthcare is a simple step toward reaching out to them.”
Raul Macias, a voting rights attorney for the ACLU, said California was first in adding its insurance exchange to the list of services offering voter registration assistance, but failed to follow through when the exchange opened.
Although he said the organizations were sympathetic to the exchange’s workload and continued to negotiate with its officials, it was not until the groups served the state with a notice of noncompliance earlier this month that state officials were able to reach a settlement.
A spokeswoman for the state health insurance exchange, Covered California, said the network had already taken “some interim steps,” including providing voter registration information and links to the secretary of State’s office on its website.
“However,” spokeswoman Anne Gonzales said, “in the first few months of our startup, our resources were primarily dedicated to getting the new insurance exchange up and running.”
“We’ve always understood our obligations and now we are happy to have a plan…and to work toward full compliance” with the law, Gonzales said.
In addition to mailings to those who have applied for the current year, the exchange will take several steps to be ready for the fall enrollment period for 2015.
Voter cards will be included in all paper applications and a voter registration application will be provided for those signing up for health insurance online; help will also be available from those assisting applicants with their insurance choices, Gonzales said.