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The NVRA requires states to offer voter registration services at all public assistance and disability service offices. Specifically, Section 7 of the NVRA required states to designate as voter registration agencies all offices that provide public assistance and state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities. The NVRA also required states to designate Armed Forces recruitment offices and other offices in the state as voter registration agencies.
In California, the following offices are designated as voter registration agencies under the NVRA:
NVRA Voter Registration Agencies
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Field Offices
Public Assistance Agencies
County welfare department offices, which accept applications and administer benefits for the CalFresh Program, formerly known as Food Stamps and federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, which replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
County welfare department offices, which accept applications and administer benefits for the Medi-Cal program.
County welfare department offices and community based non-profit organizations under contract with the Department of Public Health, formerly the Department of Health Services, which accept applications and administer benefits for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.
County welfare departments which accept applications and administer benefits for In-Home Supportive Services Program.
State-Funded Agencies Primarily Serving Persons with Disabilities
Offices of the State Department of Rehabilitation, which provide vocational rehabilitation services.
Independent Living Centers
Department of Developmental Services Regional Centers
Offices of contractors with the Department of Social Services, Office of Deaf Access, which provide services to the deaf.
State and County Mental Health Providers
Armed Forces Recruitment Offices
Other Agencies Designated by the State Under NVRA
Franchise Tax Board district offices, which provide public access for income tax and Homeowner and Renter Assistance forms, instructions and assistance.
State Board of Equalization district offices, which provide services to the public.
At a minimum, the NVRA requires voter registration agencies to provide voter registration services each time a person:
The NVRA requires voter registration agencies to provide the following voter registration services to each applicant:
These voter registration services must be provided whether the transaction is conducted in person or remotely, for example via phone, email or Internet.
The NVRA requires voter registration agencies to assist applicants with filling out the VRC. Section 7 specifically requires that agencies provide each person the same degree of assistance in completing the voter registration application as is provided by the office in completing its own agency forms, unless the person declines assistance.
When an agency provides services to a person with a disability at the person's home, the agency must also provide voter registration services at the person's home.
Agencies may provide the Secretary of State's Voter Hotline: (800) 345-8683 for applicants to use if they need help registering or have questions about their voting rights.
The applicant has the right to complete the VRC without assistance, but equal assistance also entails reviewing the VRC and Preference Form for completeness, just as the agency would review its own forms for completeness.
The NVRA requires agencies to forward completed VRCs to elections offices within 10 days of receipt (within 5 days, if received within 5 days of the voter registration deadline). As a practical matter, agencies should forward VRCs on a daily basis. VRCs are pre-addressed to the county elections office and contain postage paid stamp.
The NVRA requires agencies to keep completed Preference Forms on file at the NVRA agency for two years. Preference Forms should be stored in a central, chronological file, so that the agency can easily determine how many Preference Forms are received in a given month, which can help demonstrate NVRA compliance.
The NVRA places restrictions on how agency staff may interact with applicants when providing the opportunity to register to vote. Voter registration agency staff must not:
SB 35 (Padilla), Chapter 505, Statutes of 2012, effective January 1, 2013, codifies portions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) into state law and places new requirements on NVRA agencies, county elections officials, and the Secretary of State.
SB 35 requires NVRA agencies to do the following:
SB 35 requires county elections officials to begin reporting the number of voter registrations generated by each NVRA agency office or site in the county. The Secretary of State has developed a reporting template for the 58 county elections offices. The county elections office reporting template contains a list of the known NVRA agency offices and sites in each county. County elections officials must maintain an up-to-date list of the NVRA agency offices and sites in the county and add new offices and sites to the list as appropriate.
SB 35 requires the Secretary of State to prepare training materials, post county NVRA reports on the Secretary of State's NVRA website, and coordinate NVRA compliance throughout the state.
In order to properly track NVRA registrations, SB 35 requires NVRA agencies to order all supplies of blank voter registration cards (VRCs) from county elections officials, and county elections officials must record the serial numbers of the VRCs supplied to each NVRA office or site. NVRA agencies with multiple sites in a county must coordinate distribution of the VRCs with county elections officials to ensure proper tracking.
SB 35 requires NVRA agencies to train employees annually on NVRA requirements and on how to assist applicants with voter registration. SB 35 requires county elections officials to assist with training, if requested by an NVRA agency. The Secretary of State's NVRA/SB 35 training materials, including an easy-to-use PowerPoint training presentation and handouts, are available on the Secretary of State's NVRA website: sos.ca.gov/elections/nvra/training/.
In order to ensure uniform compliance, NVRA agencies should develop scripts for agency staff to use when providing voter registration services under the NVRA.
Under SB 35, NVRA agencies must appoint one staff person at each agency office to be in charge of NVRA compliance, including arranging staff training, ordering supplies of VRCs from the county elections office, and ensuring VRCs are submitted in a timely manner to the county elections office.
Following the passage of SB 35, the California Department of Social Services issued an All County Information Notice (ACIN) to county welfare directors on the implementation of the NVRA and SB 35 at local county welfare offices. To review California Department of Social Services ACIN 1-04-13 please visit: dss.cahwnet.gov/lettersnotices/EntRes/getinfo/acin/2013/I-04_13.pdf.
Below are examples of how NVRA compliance can be accomplished when conducting NVRA-covered transactions in various settings: in person, by mail, over the phone, or via email or the Internet. Agencies have flexibility in determining the best methods to use to ensure NVRA compliance in each setting. Therefore, in the following descriptions, the term "must" indicates a specific practice is mandated under the NVRA, while the term "should" indicates a recommended practice that can help ensure compliance but which is not expressly mandated under the NVRA.
The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) has published guidance on complying with the NVRA that contains a number of the practices described below. For more information, please visit the USDOJ Civil Rights Division Voting Section website directly at: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/nvra/nvra_faq.php.
In-Person/Mail Transactions: Voter registration agencies must include a VRC and Preference Form in the agency's standard packet of application materials handed or mailed to applicants who request services or benefits, renewal, recertification, or a change of name or address. If the applicant returns the packet without the Preference Form or VRC, the agency must follow up with the applicant once to attempt to gather the missing form(s).
Agencies must offer voter registration services to the person who is filling out the agency's forms. This includes a parent or guardian completing forms for a child. Agencies must offer assistance with completing the Preference Form and the VRC.
Phone Transactions: Agency staff must ask applicants who apply for services or benefits, renewal, recertification, or a change of name or address by phone:
"If you are not registered to vote where you live now, would you like to register today?"
Agency staff must note the applicant's response on the Voter Preference form and if the applicant says "yes" the agency must provide an opportunity to register to vote by sending a VRC to the applicant by mail.
Email and Internet Transactions: SB 35 requires that voter registration agencies that offer the opportunity to apply online for service, assistance, or to submit a recertification, renewal, or change of address form online must allow the applicant to electronically submit a voter preference form and connect the applicant to the Secretary of State's online voter registration form. Agencies must record the applicant's electronic voter preference form decision. Agencies must send applicants a voter preference form and voter registration form if the applicant does not answer the electronic voter preference form.
Agencies which connect applicants to the online voter registration form must coordinate with the Secretary of State to establish electronic tracking of the number of applicants who use this form to register to vote. In addition, voter registration agencies should include a link on the agency’s main webpage to the Secretary of State's online voter registration form at: http://registertovote.ca.gov/.
Voter Registration at Public Counters: Voter registration agencies should offer applicants an opportunity to register to vote in public areas and waiting rooms by keeping a supply of VRCs on public counters and displaying voter information. VRC supplies must be obtained from the county elections office where the agency is located. To obtain voter educational materials, such as posters, DVDs, and brochures, please call the Secretary of State's NVRA Office at (916) 657-2166 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology Upgrades: When upgrading technology related to the application, renewal or recertification, or change of address process, NVRA agencies must ensure that voter registration services, as required by the NVRA, are integrated.
For example, if the agency offers online enrollment in services or benefits, the website enrollment interview should include an electronic preference form and a link to California Online Voter Registration (COVR) website, where the applicant can register to vote online.
The NVRA requires voter registration agencies to give applicants for services or assistance both an NVRA Voter Preference Form (Preference Form) and a Voter Registration Card (VRC).
NVRA Voter Preference Form
The Preference Form must contain certain statutory language, as specified by Section 7 of the NVRA. The Secretary of State has developed a uniform Preference Form for California voter registration agencies to use.
If an agency chooses to create its own Preference Form, the form must include the following NVRA and SB 35 required language:
As noted above, both the Preference Form and the VRC must be provided to each applicant along with agency's own forms routinely distributed to applicants during intake, renewal, recertification, and a change of address procedures.
Completing the Voter Preference Form
For in-person transactions, the voter registration agency should ask the applicant to complete the Preference Form and VRC. For remote transactions, if an applicant does not complete and return a Preference Form, agency staff should attempt to follow up once with the applicant to find out whether the applicant would like to register to vote or needs assistance.
Agencies are not required to complete Preference Forms on behalf of applicants who choose not to return the Preference Form in a transaction. In such instances, after following up with the person, agencies may include a blank Preference Form with the applicant's name in their records and write "no response" on the form.
California Voter Registration Card (VRC)
The NVRA requires all states to accept the National Mail Voter Registration Form but allows each state to develop its own voter registration form, as long as it is equivalent to the federal form.
In California, the Secretary of State prints and supplies VRCs to county elections officials. In turn, county elections officials distribute supplies of VRCs to voter registration agencies within the county.
County elections officials record the serial number ranges of VRCs distributed to voter registration agencies in order to be able to track the number of completed VRCs returned and attribute new registration data to the voter registration agency office or site that distributed the form.
Voter registration agencies must distribute the California VRC rather than the National Mail Voter Registration Form in order to ensure county elections officials can properly track and report the number of registrations each public assistance agency generates.
In 2008, the Secretary of State re-designed the California VRC using the services of a language readability expert to make the form easier to read and complete.
The Secretary of State prints county-specific postage-paid Voter Registration Cards (VRCs), which include the address of the county elections office, for each of California's 58 counties.
Public assistance service and other voter registration agencies must obtain supplies of VRCs from the county elections office in the county where the agency office is located. This will ensure proper tracking and reporting of completed registrations and help attribute new registrations to the correct voter registration agency.
As noted above, while the National Voter Registration Form is valid and accepted in California, voter registration agencies should avoid distributing copies of the national form and instead obtain and distribute supplies of the state VRC from their county elections office (or from the Secretary of State in coordination with their county elections office). The national form contains no serial number and gives county elections officials no method of tracking whether a new registration came from a voter registration agency.
Using the California VRC helps ensure: 1) completed VRCs will be returned to the county elections office where the voter lives, because the VRC is self-addressed and postage paid; and 2) the county elections office can properly track and report the number of voter registrations coming from local voter registration agency offices.
The Secretary of State, the federal Election Assistance Commission, and the United States Department of Justice review reports of the number of voter registrations coming from voter registration agencies in order to determine whether agencies are providing the opportunity to register to vote in compliance with the NVRA. To ensure public assistance agencies are recognized for their compliance with the NVRA, all supplies of VRCs must be obtained from the county elections office in which the agency is located.
The NVRA requires a voter's decision to register or decline to register to vote to be kept confidential. The NVRA also requires the location (e.g., public assistance agency) where an applicant registers to be kept confidential. One of the primary goals of the NVRA's confidentiality provisions is to protect the privacy of applicants who receive public assistance or disability services.
In California, voter registration agencies and elections offices must keep information regarding an applicant's choice to register or decline to register, including voter preference forms, as well as the identity of the agency through which a particular voter registered confidential.
In order to protect privacy and accurately report on voter registration at public assistance agencies, county elections officials should distribute VRCs by assigning specific blocks of VRC affidavit numbers to public assistance agencies and tracking those affidavit numbers as completed VRCs are returned to elections offices.
Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires that, in covered jurisdictions, all election information available in English be made available in certain minority languages. Covered jurisdictions are determined by the Census Bureau based upon a formula in the VRA. Under the most recent US Census Bureau determination, the state of California is covered for Spanish language assistance. Additionally, eight counties are covered for one or more Asian languages. The NVRA requires that voter registration agencies in counties covered by Section 203 of the VRA provide election materials in covered languages.
Agencies with offices in counties covered by Section 203 of the VRA should contact their county elections offices for materials, including VRCs in covered languages.
County elections offices have supplies of Voter Registration Cards (VRCs) in every language required by the federal Voting Rights Act in that county.
The Preference Form is available in 10 languages: Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. All versions of the Preference Form may be downloaded and printed from the Secretary of State's NVRA website: sos.ca.gov/elections/nvra/training/voter-preference-forms.htm.
The NVRA requires that voter registration agency offices transmit completed voter registration cards to the county elections office within 10 days. If a voter registration agency receives a completed VRC within five days of the voter registration deadline (the 15th day prior to an election), the agency must transmit the VRC to the county elections office within five days.
In order to meet these transmittal deadlines, each NVRA voter registration agency office must establish procedures for ensuring timely transmittal of accepted forms to the appropriate local elections official. These procedures should be developed in consultation with the local elections official to whom the forms will be transmitted.
Daily transmittal of completed VRCs
Since the California VRC is a self-addressed and postage-paid form, voter registration agencies should make it part of their daily routine to drop completed VRCs in the mail. If the voter registration agency is located in the same facility as the county elections office, the agency may hand deliver or use inter-office mail on a daily basis to transmit completed VRCs to the county elections office.
The voter registration deadline in California is the 15th day prior to each election. Under the NVRA, if a person completes and submits a VRC to an NVRA voter registration agency on or before the voter registration deadline, the registration is timely.
Elections officials should make every effort to transmit completed registration forms from agency offices daily in order to minimize the number of registrations that arrive at the elections office after the deadline to register.
Elections officials should notify NVRA agency offices of upcoming election dates and voter registration deadlines and should remind NVRA agencies of the need to transmit VRCs on a daily basis. This will help minimize the number of provisional ballots used in a given election.