WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today sponsored a bill introduced by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Rules Committee and California’s former Secretary of State, and Congresswoman Norma Torres (D-Calif.-35) introduced bicameral legislation to improve voter registration efforts at naturalization ceremonies. The Including New Voters In The Electorate (INVITE) Act would designate United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices as voter registration agencies under the National Voter Registration Act, requiring USCIS staff to help new U.S. citizens complete their voter registration forms and return them to the appropriate state agency following their naturalization.
While USCIS policy states that the agency should provide new U.S. citizens with voter registration forms at their USCIS naturalization ceremonies, the policy does not currently require the agency to assist new U.S. citizens in properly filling out or returning their forms, leaving many newly eligible United States citizens unregistered to vote. New citizens naturalized at judicial ceremonies or without a formal ceremony are at an even greater disadvantage, having no guarantee of even receiving voter registration information. Just 61 percent of all naturalized U.S. citizens were registered to vote during the November 2022 election, compared to 70 percent of citizens born in the United States.
The INVITE Act would maintain USCIS’s flexibility to work with state voter registration agencies and nonpartisan voter registration organizations, and it would allow the agency to develop and implement plans with each state to carry out this important work.
“New Americans work hard to earn their citizenship, culminating in the right to take part in one of our most sacred institutions – democracy,” said Senator Cardin. “Removing the barriers that needlessly keep new citizens from voting align with this country’s principles and the American Dream.”
“All U.S. citizens deserve equal opportunity to participate in our democratic process,” said Senator Padilla. “But far too often, new U.S. citizens face major barriers and information gaps that prevent them from registering to vote. As a nation of immigrants, we have a responsibility to make this process as easy as possible for newly naturalized citizens by actively helping them complete and return their voter registration forms.”
“The strength of our democracy comes from uplifting the voices of all citizens, including new and aspiring Americans. They need and deserve to have their stories told and voices heard at all levels of government, and Congress has the responsibility to support newly naturalized citizens. The INVITE Act is a great step towards expanding voting rights for new Americans by ensuring USCIS – under the National Voter Registration Act – works directly with new citizens to register to vote following their naturalization ceremony. As the first Central American-born Member of Congress, I am proud to introduce this common-sense bill to help naturalized citizens make their voices heard,” said Congresswoman Torres, Chair of the New Americans Caucus.
“As the agency responsible for naturalizing new citizens, USCIS has a vital duty to provide robust voter registration services to new citizens following their naturalization. This includes ensuring that all new citizens have access to the information and assistance they need to successfully register to vote. The INVITE Act would ensure that USCIS fulfills this duty by requiring field offices to proactively assist new citizens with voter registration, opening the door to a stronger, more inclusive democracy,” said Xavier Persad, Senior Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Voting is a fundamental and important right that comes with being a citizen of the United States,” said Jessica Jones Capparell, Director of Government Affairs at the League of Women Voters of the United States. “New citizens are energized and eager to make their voices heard, and the League is pleased to support this legislation that will ensure that USCIS is able to provide new citizens with the opportunity to register to vote at naturalization ceremonies, thus helping new citizens fully realize the responsibilities of citizenship.”
“The ability to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and it is crucial that new citizens can easily register to vote and participate in the federal, state, and local elections,” said Kica Matos, President of the National Immigration Law Center. “We thank Sen. Padilla for introducing this important bill and urge Congress to pass it swiftly.”
“Our government has a responsibility to ensure that all who are eligible can exercise their right to vote. The INVITE Act would require USCIS to offer voter registration assistance to new Americans on their very first day of citizenship. With over 800,000 immigrants naturalizing every year, the impact of the INVITE Act is huge. Efforts like this are a critical step to removing barriers that impede Black and brown immigrants from full participation in our democracy,” said Phi Nguyen, Director of Democracy, Demos.
“Voting is both a benefit and responsibility of U.S. citizenship. Facilitating and ensuring our new citizens can exercise this right — by registering them to vote just after naturalization — makes perfect sense,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, Director of Voting Rights at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“We support the INVITE Act because it will strengthen our democracy as it reinforces our country’s guarantee of the right to vote for every eligible person, a right that is a key reason why people from around the world long to become American citizens and to participate in our democratic society,” said Svante Myrick, President of People For the American Way.
“Registering to vote and making my voice heard at the ballot box was an important moment when I first became a citizen,” said Chispa National Director Estefany Carrasco-Gonzalez. “Many immigrant communities already face disproportionate harm from environmental injustice. Those who have undergone the process to become citizens should be able to easily access their fundamental right to vote in our country, which is why we applaud Senator Padilla and Congress must pass the INVITE Act.”
Specifically, designating USCIS field offices under the National Voter Registration Act would require them to:
- Work with states to develop and implement a plan to distribute voter registration information and forms to new citizens following naturalization,
- Offer assistance to new citizens in filling out the voter registration application, and
- Transmit the completed application to the appropriate state election official or agency.
USCIS has begun developing potential methods to increase voter registration in response to the White House’s Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting, which called on agencies to “consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.”
Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as Representatives Lou Correa (D-Calif.-46), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-Ga.-04), and Delia C. Ramirez (D-Ill.-03), are cosponsoring the bill.
The INVITE Act is endorsed by the ACLU, League of Women Voters of the United States, Stand Up America, The Brennan Center for Justice, National Partnership for New Americans, Demos, CHIRLA, People for the American Way, Welcoming America, SEIU, Common Cause, National Immigration Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, End Citizens United, and League of Conservation Voters.
A one-pager of the bill is available here.
Full text of the bill is available here.