April 18, 2024

The Department of Health and Human Services is making voter registration information accessible to those who enroll for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act’s digital marketplace — following through on a commitment that some lawmakers have pressed for since 2022 — Vice President Kamala Harris said during a roundtable with voting rights leaders on Tuesday.

Harris told the convened leaders that HHS “will start emailing information on how to register to vote to everyone who enrolls in the ACA” and said that “the first email was actually sent last Friday.”

“And last year, we had 21 million people [enroll for coverage], so we’re talking about a significant number of people,” she added. 

President Biden’s March 2021 executive order on promoting voting access directed federal agencies to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.”

A December 2021 fact sheet released by the White House said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — which oversees the ACA’s insurance exchange website — would work to comply with the president’s order by making it “easier for consumers using Healthcare.gov to connect to voter registration services and receive assistance.”

But the effort to provide voting information through HealthCare.gov has been a long time coming, and some Senate Democrats have chided HHS for what they perceived to be a lack of urgency in making voter registration information available to new ACA enrollees over the past several years.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. wrote HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in June 2023 requesting an update on the agency’s efforts to promote voting access.

“While we acknowledge some progress HHS has made in fulfilling its promises under the voting EO, we are concerned that other commitments — particularly the one involving HealthCare.gov — are not being sufficiently prioritized,” they wrote at the time.

The senators’ letter came after many of the same lawmakers asked Becerra in June 2022 to provide an update on the department’s work to comply with Biden’s order and said officials should “expeditiously implement changes to HealthCare.gov to facilitate access to voter registration services for millions of Americans.” 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., also wrote a separate letter to the HHS secretary in October 2023 requesting an update on “the status of incorporating a voter registration option on Healthcare.gov,” noting at the time that the 2023 Election Day was two weeks away and the department had still not followed through on its commitment. 

“Our democracy only works if people participate and I’m glad the Biden administration is finding creative ways to do voter registration outreach that focuses on meeting people where they are,” Murphy told Nextgov/FCW in a statement. “These emails are a great start, but it’s still important for HHS to include a voter registration question in the application process to ensure everyone who enrolls in the ACA has the opportunity to register. This would be very similar to what the DMV has done for years and doesn’t rely on an administration’s interest in sending emails that could ultimately end up in a junk inbox.”

HHS did not respond to requests for comment.

This article has been updated to include a statement from Sen. Murphy.