Warner, Kaine & Colleagues Call on U.S. Department of Education to Facilitate Student Civic Engagement in Higher Education Institutions
Dec 10 2021
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner & Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined a bicameral letter led by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to address student voter registration and participation as it formulates higher education rulemaking. The letter comes as states across the country pass legislation designed to curb the voting rights of Black, Brown, and young people.
“Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections,” wrote the lawmakers.
“Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request,” concluded the lawmakers.
Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, has long fought to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box. In September, Kaine introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation cosponsored by Warner to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from attacks. The Freedom to Vote Act elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.
In October, Warner and Kaine helped introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act legislation to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and stop the spread of voter suppression.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below:
Dear Secretary Cardona:
We write to urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to address student voter registration and participation in upcoming rulemaking for higher education accountability and to provide additional guidance to institutions of higher education to facilitate civic engagement.
Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections.
Section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act requires each institution of higher education that receives federal financial aid funds to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials and to make such materials “widely available” to students. A college’s good faith effort to distribute voter registration information widely should reflect the most common methods by which individuals register to vote— including, increasingly, online registration—and the deadlines they must meet.
The Department has full authority to prescribe regulations to enforce the program participation agreement in Section 487(a)(23). In early 2022, as part of the upcoming institutional accountability rulemaking, the Department should propose regulations that specify the time, manner, and frequency by which voter registration materials are distributed to students.
Importantly, at least once per year, as part of the course registration or other institutional enrollment process, the rules should require institutions to distribute to student’s voter registration information, including, where possible, a direct and accessible web link to register to vote or to update their voter registration (such as providing a new address). The rules should also recommend institutions distribute voter registration materials to students during other interactions many students will have with institutions, such as student identification application processes. While the regulations should prioritize online voter registration options to ensure an easy and accessible process for students, they should also accommodate institutions in states that do not conduct online voter registration.
The Department should also swiftly issue sub-regulatory guidance that clarifies institutions’ responsibilities under current regulations. This guidance should remind colleges of their existing requirement to distribute voter registration information to students well in advance of state deadlines to register to vote. And, such guidance should strongly encourage institutions to adopt best practices for providing links to voter registration online and through direct notifications to students, including links during course registration and campus-wide email reminders. These reminders should also encourage students to check and update their voter registration information to ensure the most recent address is on file and explain current law on where students may register to vote based on their permanent residence. Finally, the guidance should make clear that Federal Work-Study funds can be used for nonpartisan voter registration, education, engagement, and poll watching activities—and can help institutions meet their community service requirements.
Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request.