California voter registration gets a shot in the arm

150 150 Ed Coghlan

Voter registration and healthcare unite under the NVRA. (Photo Credit: City Blog)

California’s attempt to improve voter registration and participation may have become a bit healthier this week. Secretary of State Debra Bowen has designated the state’s new Health Benefit Exchange, Covered California, as a voter registration agency under the National Voters Registration Act (NVRA). This advances California’s position as leading the nation in reducing barriers and expanding opportunities for voter registration.

Since an estimated 6 million Californians are eligible to apply or renew their health coverage through Covered California, this creates direct access to those who want to register to vote. It should help increase voter registration in a state than ranks near the bottom  

 “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.”

Covered California is developing its online, phone and in-person application process for an anticipated October 1st launch.  By incorporating voter registration services into all of its application processes, Covered California will lead the nation by offering those 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.

Improving voter registration and participation is a principal goal of the Future of California Elections (FOCE), which involves a host of partner organizations that can all be viewed here, along with the FOCE mission statement.

“This is an outstanding development and the Secretary of State is to be congratulated. Improving voter registration is step one, and getting people to vote is step two,” said Caroline Bruister, who is project director for California Forward, one of the FOCE partners.

The impact of this development could be felt far beyond California. Shellenberger estimates that if other states follow California’s lead, up to 68 million Americans could find it easier to register to vote.


Ed Coghlan

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