U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle wants to require that voter registration forms be given to all new U.S. citizens at their naturalization ceremonies.
"Once someone becomes a citizen, making sure that they have the information on how to register to vote … is an important thing we can offer them," Boyle (D., Pa.) said Monday.
Boyle and Rep. Joe Crowley (D., N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, co-sponsored legislation that would require the Department of Homeland Security to allow chief election officers throughout the country to distribute voter registration forms "to each person who becomes a citizen of the United States at a naturalization ceremony."
According to Boyle, few states and municipalities, excluding Pennsylvania or Philadelphia, provide voter registration material to newly sworn U.S. citizens.
"It's completely haphazard," Boyle said, noting that some places include the information in new citizens packets, while others have a stand outside of the naturalization ceremonies. Boyle wants the process to be uniform.
The issue came up at a community meeting last fall in which Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley was taking questions. One woman asked her if newly sworn citizens are registered to vote on the spot. Deeley, who is part of the three-member board of commissioners that oversee local elections, said she didn't know the answer to that.
She reached out to Boyle, who told her that voter registration wasn't a requirement. Boyle took it from there and created legislation that would require voter registration forms be given to every new citizen, Deeley said Monday.
"Certainly we want people who are becoming citizens of our great country … to be part of our voting process," she said.
The legislation, which was introduced last week, would also allow election officials to set up informational tables outside naturalization ceremonies. Philadelphia has four to six administrative naturalization ceremonies each week, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The USCIS announced last week that it will naturalize 15,000 new citizens on the Fourth of July in several dozen Independence Day-themed naturalization ceremonies across the country, including at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia.
"We should do all we can to provide all citizens a fair opportunity to participate in our democracy — and in fact encourage them to do so — regardless of the location they happen to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen," Boyle said.