October 23, 2016
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Provision Protects Low-Income Voting Rights

NEW YORK - Millions of low-income Americans can be brought into the political process through proper implementation of an often-neglected provision of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), according to a report published by Demos, a national election reform and voting rights policy center.

The NVRA provision requires states to provide voter registration services to applicants and recipients of public assistance benefits. And the time is ripe to ensure that voter registration is provided at public assistance offices: many public assistance programs are experiencing significant growth, with participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP", formerly Food Stamps), being at an all-time high.

Key findings from the report include:

--OHIO'S Department of Job and Family Services reported over 101,000 voter registration applications completed at its offices in just the first six months following a settlement agreement with Demos and its partners, with a monthly average roughly ten times that of the two years prior to the filing of the lawsuit.

--MISSOURI has experienced a roughly 1,600 percent increase in low-income citizen applications for voter registration at the state's Department of Social Services, with 246,020 applications processed in the twenty-two months following a successful court action to improve compliance.

--In NORTH CAROLINA, well over 100,000 low-income citizens have applied to register to vote through the state's public assistance agencies since the State Board of Elections worked cooperatively with Demos and others to improve NVRA compliance, a six-fold increase over the state's previous performance.

--Similarly, the number of voter registration applications from VIRGINIA'S public assistance agencies increased five-fold after Demos worked cooperatively with state officials to improve their procedures.

--Voter registrations from ILLINOIS' Department of Human Services increased to an average of 6,162 per month under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, compared to an average of only 446 in the preceding two years, an increase of over 1,200 percent.

--After being placed under a court order in 2002, over one in six public assistance registrations in the nation came from TENNESSEE in the 2007-2008 reporting period.

Despite these victories, Demos’ research shows that noncompliance is still a huge problem, with a 62 percent decrease in the number of voter registration applications from public assistance agencies between implementation of the NVRA in 1995-1996 and the latest reporting period of 2007-2008.  In the report Demos continues its fight to raise awareness and achieve compliance with the NVRA by making a number of essential recommendations.

"As the economic downturn continues to impact the country and increasing numbers of individuals turn to public assistance, the NVRA has never been more important for ensuring that low-income citizens have a voice in the democratic process,” said Scott Novakowski, Senior Policy Analyst in the Democracy Program at Demos and author of the report.

“But effective implementation of the NVRA does not happen in vacuum. State-level officials must take responsibility for ensuring local offices are in compliance with the law.  As Demos’ experience in working with states has shown, the adoption of simple procedures in line with general principles of effective program management can produce dramatic success.”

To read the report

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