After years of deliberate neglect, the Justice Department is finally beginning to enforce the federal law requiring states to provide voter registration at welfare and food stamp offices. The effort not only promises to bring hundreds of thousands of hard-to-reach voters into the electorate, but it could also reduce the impact of advocacy organizations whose role in registering voters caused such a furor in 2008.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, better known as the motor-voter law, is well-known for making it possible to register to vote at state motor vehicle offices. However, the law also required states to allow registration at offices that administer food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, disability assistance and child health programs. States were enthusiastic about the motor-vehicle section of the law, and millions of new voters got on the rolls while getting a driver's license. But registration at public assistance offices proved far less popular.
In part, that was because of additional paperwork at those offices, but in many states, Republican officials did not want to provide easy entry to the voting rolls for low-income people whom they considered more likely to vote Democratic.