On Friday, the Biden administration introduced new measures to enhance voter registration accessibility during the naturalization events of incoming U.S. citizens. This is part of a wider initiative by the federal authorities to promote voter registration, an effort that has seen opposition from Republican representatives.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revealed that their policy manual is undergoing revisions to amplify awareness and availability of voter registration during these naturalization events. At such ceremonies, qualified foreign nationals gain U.S. citizenship, granting them the right to participate in elections, including the federal ones.
The updated policy ensures that each naturalization event facilitates voter registration, providing relevant information and contact details related to voting and registration processes. Furthermore, the guidance advises that local or state election departments be invited to these ceremonies to both hand out and gather registration applications. In situations where these officials aren’t present, the coordination with unbiased, non-governmental groups is encouraged.
Organizations providing these services should be given a platform to introduce their purpose and interact with the soon-to-be naturalized citizens before the event commences.
USCIS, an entity primarily overseeing lawful immigration, communicated through a policy alert that voting in federal elections is a fundamental privilege of U.S. citizenship. They stressed that everyone obtaining citizenship during these ceremonies is immediately qualified to register as a voter.
This policy change stems from President Biden’s executive order from March 2021 emphasizing enhanced voting access. The directive prompted agency leaders to ponder over ways their respective departments could bolster voter registration and participation, all while adhering to the law.
Earlier in the year, consistent with this executive order, USCIS declared its intent to offer guidelines, outlining the procedure for effective collaboration with state, local election officers, and non-partisan entities to present voter registration forms to all newly inducted Americans.
This broad-based effort, instigated by the aforementioned executive order, has sparked debate among some Republican members of Congress. They’ve voiced apprehensions about the potential for federal overreach and have urged the administration to divulge more details. Some House Republicans have demanded the release of the strategic plan, challenging Biden’s authority to instruct federal agencies to promote voter registration and participation.
Michael Bars, previously serving as the Deputy DHS Assistant Secretary during the Trump era, expressed concerns to the media. He suggested that Republican House members should not finance what he views as an unauthorized directive, asking federal entities to support partisan voter registration efforts.
Election reforms have been contentious topics among Republicans and Democrats alike. In 2021, Democrats endeavored to pass the ‘For the People Act’ which aimed to restructure the voting mechanism, with provisions like automatic voter registration and reinstating voting rights for felons. However, Republicans viewed it as an attempt to centralize state and local electoral processes. Although the proposal was approved by the House, which had a Democratic majority then, it faced setbacks in the Senate.