Among the 60 pages that comprise the planned online application for the Affordable Care Act is this one: "Would you like to register to vote?" As it does in the application for any public assistance program, by law. But why let that get in the way of a conservative media furor?
The conservative Washington Examiner was the first to report on a letter sent to Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, by Rep. Charles Boustany.
Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, said the application raises two alarming issues: What does HHS plan to do with all the information it collects on each applicant and will pro-Obama groups like AARP and Families USA that might be tapped as "navigators" to sign people up to Obamacare, steer them to register as Democrats. Others have indicated that groups like Planned Parenthood and ACORN could also act as a navigator.
Never mind that ACORN doesn't exist.
As a Department of Justice FAQ explains, any agency that "provides either public assistance or state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities must offer voter-registration services" under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The Affordable Care Act clearly meets that standard. So one step of the online application process involves asking the same question that appears on applications for Medicare, food stamps, and WIC benefits. "Would you like to register to vote?" Say yes, get an application.
The Examiner's insinuation (and the implied insinuation of other outlets) is that this is a backdoor effort by the administration to encourage more Democrats to register to vote. Which is partially right: It's an effort to encourage more people to register to vote. As suggested in this brief, people with lower economic status, like those who might be more likely to rely on assistance programs, "are more apathetic towards politics, have a low level of political efficacy, and participate less in the voting process." The NVRA seeks to remedy that. The concern among conservatives, of course, is that those voters are also more likely to vote for Democrats, "navigators" like ACORN aside.
For what it's worth, the National Voting Rights Act also includes language on combatting voter fraud, not that rampant (or even small scale) voter fraud exists. None of which will do anything to keep this from being a hobby-horse of Obama opponents for months to come.