In this photo taken Saturday, Nov. 9, Cinthia Orozco gets help signing up for health insurance from Griselda Zamora, a health care specialist, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California health care site falling short on registering Latinos, others to vote, say advocates

California’s healthcare exchange has been leading the country in enrollments, but is falling short of its legal requirement to also give applicants a chance to register to vote.

While the federal site has been burdened with problems, California’s healthcare exchange, Covered California, has enrolled more people than the federal site has, with fewer reported problems.

The state’s enrollment of more than 35,000 was twice that of any other state for October.

But Covered California is not living up to legal requirements to ask all those applying for health insurance whether they want to register to vote as well, according to voter advocates.

“They do have a button where people can sign up to vote, but just having a link isn’t enough,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“They need to build it into training materials; the trainers need to know how to provide this assistance. You have to make sure that applicants for healthcare know that they aren’t required to register to vote. There’s an educational aspect to the training as well,” Alexander said.

By law, Covered California must ask every applicant whether he or she wants to register to vote, inform applicants that registering to vote is not a condition of receiving health insurance coverage, direct enrollees who want to register to a link to online voter registration or a paper registration card and provide assistance with voter registration, if needed.

On Nov. 14, the ACLU, along with its voting rights partners, sent a letter to Peter Lee, the Executive Director of Covered California, informing the exchange that it may take legal action if it fails to comply with the failure to comply with the National Voter Registration Act by Dec. 16.

California recently ranked 45th in voter registrations, according to the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley, Calif.-based racial and economic justice organization.

Latinos, who make up 33 percent of the state’s adult population, are only 17 percent of the state’s voters, according to Public Policy Institute of California, based in San Francisco.  Meanwhile, 61 percent of Latinos in California are uninsured, according to various groups.

Combining voter registration and the health care insurance enrollment experience on the state’s exchange, “will improve not just the health of the Latino community, but we will offer some their first opportunity … to participate in our democracy,” Lori Shellenberger, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of California Voting Rights Project, told NBC Latino.

The Obama administration has given enrollment of Latinos for health care coverage added focus because it is the racial and ethnic group with the greatest share of uninsured.

Also Latinos are generally younger than the rest of the U.S. population, and younger, healthier people help to offset the health care costs of older or less healthy people.

Overall, California has the 10th highest medically uninsured rate with just over 20 percent of the state’s residents under 65 not having health coverage as of 2011.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen declared the state’s health care exchange a voter registration agency in May.

As a result, Covered California was required to ask every applicant if he or she would like to register to vote to comply with state law and with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

At least one million Californians will apply for health coverage during the open enrollment period, officials estimate.

California is one of three states that are not fully implementing voter registration services with their health care exchange.

James Scullary, a spokesman for Covered California, said there are links on every page to register to vote under the “contact us” and “links to external services” links.

Scullary added that the secretary of state’s phone number and website is on its paper applications. The agency also is considering making it possible for information from the Covered California online application be entered automatically to the voter registration application.

The opportunity to register voters ends when the enrollment period for Covered California closes, scheduled for March 31, 2014.

California health care site falling short on registering Latinos, others to vote, say advocates adriana maestas e1372274661894 politics NBC Latino News

Adriana Maestas is a senior contributing editor at Politic365 and one of the co-founders of the  She resides in California.      

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