Arlo Blaisus

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Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) to maximize voter registration opportunities and correct a century of discriminatory and overly complicated State voter registration laws. Section 7 of the NVRA was designed to increase voter registration among low-income and minority citizens by requiring States to provide voter registration services at public assistance agencies. However, a three-decade campaign by state governments to resist implementing the NVRA has undermined its effectiveness.

As a part of this campaign, States interpret Section 7 narrowly to limit its scope. Under Section 7, each State must designate as Voter Registration Agencies (VRAs) “all offices in the State that provide public assistance.” Congress used this broad language out of a concern that states would limit the number of Voter Registration Agencies. However, this is exactly what States have done. Notably, no State has ever designated Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) as Voter Registration Agencies.

Public Housing Authorities are state agencies that administer housing aid programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). PHAs serve millions of lowincome and minority citizens who are least likely to be registered to vote. Providing voter registration services at PHAs would effectively increase democratic participation and diversify the electorate.

This paper argues that the plain text and legislative intent of the NVRA require States to designate Public Housing Authorities as Voter Registration Agencies. This paper uses prior case law and statutory interpretation techniques to demonstrate that PHAs are “offices in the State” that “provide public assistance.” These are the only requirements under Section 7. Therefore, States are out of compliance with the NVRA for failing to designate PHAs as VRAs. This paper recommends that the U.S. Department of Justice and private citizens use the statutory right of action included in the NVRA to force State compliance.