Merkley, Wyden, Colleagues Urge U.S. Department of Education to Facilitate Student Voter Registration in Colleges and Universities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As states across the country are passing voter laws limiting access to the ballot box, Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are joining a bicameral effort calling on the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to ensure institutions of higher education are creating opportunities for students to register to vote on campuses.

In a letter written to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the lawmakers highlighted section 487 (a)(23) of the Higher Education Act, which requires institutions of higher education that receive federal funding to make a “good faith effort” distributing voter registration materials and having them fully accessible to students. The lawmakers said the department has full authority to suggest regulations that enforce the key provision and recommend guidance on increasing civic engagement practices for colleges and universities.

“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 lawmakers wrote. “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.”

The letter continues, “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.”

Alongside Merkley and Wyden, signatories of the letter—which was led by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)—include Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Mark Warner (D-VA), and Representatives Deborah Ross (D-NC-02), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Terri Sewell (D-AL-07), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL-07), Stephen Lynch (D-MA-08), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-05), and Tom Suozzi (D-NY-03).

The full text of the letter can be viewed here.