The Biden administration on Friday rolled out new guidance to provide expanded access to voter registration during naturalization ceremonies of new U.S. citizens – part of a broader push by the federal government to increase voter registration that has raised concerns from Republicans.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is updating its policy manual “to increase awareness and expand access to voter registration during naturalization ceremonies” at which eligible foreign nationals become U.S. citizens and are then able to vote in elections, including federal elections.
The new guidance “affirms that USCIS provides access to voter registration services at each administrative naturalization ceremony, including information regarding points-of-contact for voting and voter registration.”
It also tells officials that offices should request state or local government election offices attend ceremonies to distribute and collect registration applications. It says offices will coordinate with “non-partisan, non-governmental organizations” for such services when state and local government officials are not available.
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Those organizations offering the services should have “the opportunity to introduce themselves and address the naturalization candidates before the ceremony.”
A video showing President Biden’s welcome message to new immigrants is shown at a naturalization ceremony at Grand Teton National Park, Aug. 4, 2023, in Moose, Wyoming. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
“The ability to vote in federal elections is a fundamental right that comes with U.S. citizenship,” the agency, which primarily deals with legal immigration, said in a policy alert. “All individuals naturalized at an administrative naturalization ceremony are immediately eligible to register to vote.”
“In furtherance of its long-standing goal of encouraging newly naturalized U.S. citizens to exercise their right to vote, USCIS has historically provided access to voter registration services at the conclusion of administrative ceremonies.”
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The new guidance originates from President Biden’s March 2021 executive order on “promoting access to voting” and orders agency heads to “evaluate ways in which the agency can, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, promote voter registration and voter participation.”
Earlier this year it announced that in line with that order, USCIS would issue guidance, “including providing a clear roadmap for how to successfully partner with state and local election administration officials and nonpartisan organizations to provide voter registration applications to all new Americans.”
The broader multi-agency push launched by the executive order has caused controversy with some Republicans in Congress, who have expressed concern about federal overreach and have called for more information to be released by the administration. Republicans in the House had called for the strategic plan to be made public and argued that Biden “has no legal basis to order all federal agencies to engage in voter registration, nor does he have the authority to order any federal agency to engage in efforts to promote voter participation.”
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Former Deputy DHS Assistant Secretary Michael Bars, who served in the Trump administration, told Fox News Digital that conservative lawmakers in the House should deny funding for what he called an “unlawful executive order directing federal agencies to conduct registration drives for partisan voter turnout, whereby political appointees are ostensibly deputized to register and mobilize voters.”
“This is a function of political parties and candidates – not state, local or federal government,” said Bars, who now serves as executive director of the Election Transparency Initiative.
Election reform has previously been a flashpoint between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats in 2021 attempted to pass the For the People Act, which would have overhauled the voting process, including requiring states to automatically register voters, and restored voting right to felons.
Republicans rejected it as a “hostile takeover” by Democrats to federalize state and local elections. The bill passed the then-Democrat controlled House but failed to advance in the Senate.