Today marks the opening of the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. An estimated seven million uninsured Americans are expected to apply for coverage during this first round of open enrollment; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2016, 25 million Americans will register for health insurance through the exchanges. In addition to expanding access to affordable healthcare, the opening of the health exchanges also has the opportunity to dramatically expand access to the ballot.
You see, one-third of uninsured Americans are also not registered to vote. And under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)—also called the “motor voter law”—agencies that provide public assistance, like the new health insurance exchanges, must also provide voter registration services. Because of this law, both the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House have acknowledged that the health insurance exchanges operated by, or in partnership with the federal government must offer voter registration services.
This important law also applies to the 14 states that are operating their own exchanges independent of the federal government. Among these states, California, New York, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island have all acknowledged their obligation under the NVRA to provide voter registration services through the health insurance exchanges. With over 10 million uninsured Americans living in these five states, this is a tremendous opportunity to expand ballot access. Unfortunately, nine states—Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—have yet to officially announce plans to comply with the NVRA. We will continue to press ahead and urge more states to comply with federal law so that all Americans can have an opportunity to exercise the most fundamental right in our democracy.