Iowa should comply with National Voter Registration Act

State Representative Adam Zabner being sworn in as a legislator in January 2023

Adam Zabner represents Iowa House district 90, covering part of Iowa City. He delivered remarks on this topic as a point of personal privilege in the Iowa House on April 10; you can listen here.

American democracy is at its best when Americans participate. Unfortunately, Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services is holding some Iowans back from participating in our elections.

In 1993, Congress, with bipartisan support from Iowa’s federal delegation, passed the National Voter Registration Act to encourage participation. The NVRA is the reason you are asked to register to vote every time you renew your driver’s license.

The bill also requires that Americans be given a chance to register to vote every time they register or renew their registration for Medicaid. Nationally, the NVRA has been a roaring success. In particular, the provisions around Medicaid have helped improve voter registration rates among low-income Americans and people of color, groups that have historically been underrepresented in elections and in government.

In January, Zachary Roth and Jared Strong reported for Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that Iowa is failing to comply with the NVRA. In the last election cycle, just 1,222 Iowans registered to vote through public assistance programs. Compare that number to Kentucky, where 88,000 people were able to register. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that these voter registrations accounted for 0.1 percent of new applications in Iowa, compared to a national average of 3 percent.

It’s not hard to guess what explains these lackluster numbers. Iowa’s Medicaid application form is 27 pages long. Many other states include a voter registration form in the packet. In Iowa, at the bottom of page 16, the packet contains one sentence and a link to the voter registration form. The link is printed out. An Iowan would have to type the 46-character link into their browser and access a printer to print it out. This is unlikely to register voters, and states with similar policies have been found to be out of compliance with the NVRA.

In January I met with Iowa Health and Human Services Director Kelly Garcia and brought this issue to her attention. Despite repeated assurances that the agency wants to improve, the department has failed to act.

Iowa can and must do better to ensure access to voting rights for every eligible Iowan. People applying for or renewing their Medicaid should simply receive a printed-out voter registration form to return. The agency must act and it must act soon. Iowans are facing what could be the most important election in American history, and voting access can’t wait one more day.

About the Author(s)

Adam Zabner