By Scott Shafer, KQED
The floundering roll out of the federal government’s health care exchange has given Republicans plenty of reasons to criticize the Affordable Care Act. But setting aside the online train wreck of healthcare.gov and the cost of expanding health care to millions of Americans, there may also be political reasons the GOP hates Obamacare: Voter registration.
It goes back to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act -- a.k.a. the Motor Voter act. It requires that state agencies providing public assistance must also offer voter registration materials to anyone they help. The most recognized place this happens is the DMV, hence the nickname "Moter Voter." The Obama Administration says the law also applies to federally run exchanges in states (mostly with Republican governors) that decided against having their own online health insurance marketplace.
Republicans in Congress have been railing against this, although the issue has taken a back seat to other concerns, notably the technological shortcomings of healthcare.gov. But to quote conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Obamacare is really “about building a permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority."
Surprisingly, California has never fully implemented Motor Voter. Pete Wilson was governor when the law was enacted and he objected to it being an “unfunded federal mandate.” A lot has changed since then. For starters, Californians can register to vote at the DMV as well as online, and last year State Senator Alex Padilla authored SB 35, which required that all state agencies designate a Motor Voter coordinator.
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, notes that Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently declared that Covered California is covered by the Motor Voter act, although the California Health Benefit Exchange Board is apparently taking a “phased in” approach to voter registration, presumably making sure the health insurance part is working well first.
Alexander sees tremendous potential to expand voter registration in the state via CoveredCA.com.
“There are 5.8 million Californians who are eligible to vote but are not registered,” says Alexander, “and there are 5.3 million who are uninsured. We expect many are one in the same.”
Alexander notes that health advocates see a direct correlation between health status and voting.
“They know that promoting health involves promoting civic engagement,” says Alexander, adding “when people feel they have a say in their lives through voting and civic participation, it has a positive effect on their physical and mental health.”
Nearly 60 percent of the 5.5 million uninsured California officials hope will get insurance through the new health care marketplace are Latino. Overwhelmingly, they tend to register and vote Democratic.
So, at least in California, maybe Rush Limbaugh has a point.