Georgia Settles Lawsuit To Offer Voter Registration to Public Assistance Recipients
The state of Georgia has settled a lawsuit with a coalition of voting rights groups to enforce a requirement in the federal National Voter Registration Act to offer the opportunity to register to vote to anyone applying for state public assistance or disability support.
The settlement is the latest in a string of victories for voting rights advocates who have sued state after state for essentially abandoning the NVRA's public assistance agency requirements. Instead, these states have argued that the opportunity to register to vote at motor vehicle agencies is enough to satisfy the law--which has been resoundingly rejected by federal courts, prompting the settlements.
Georgia's NVRA compliance record was particularly bad, according to the latest report to Congress on NVRA implementation by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The report says that between 2009-2010, Georgia had an estimated 6.7 million eligible voters, of which 5.7 million, or 86 percent, were registered. Of those registrations, 279 were done at state public assistance agencies, 19 at disability service agencies, and 569 at other state agencies.
"In the past several years, lawsuits filed by voting rights groups have forced other states that had been violating the NVRA to comply, with dramatic results," said Sarah Massey, a spokesperson for Project Vote, one of the groups that sued. "For example, voter registration applications from Missouri public assistance agencies skyrocketed, from fewer than 8,000 a year to an average of 115,000 per year, following settlement of a suit in that state in 2008. More than 380,000 low-income Ohioans have applied to register since a similar case was settled there at the end of 2009. Settlements were also reached in New Mexico and Indiana."
“This settlement is a major step in modernizing our registration system for public assistance applicants, who increasingly interact with agencies through internet-based and telephone transactions,” says Neil Steiner, a partner with the law firm of Dechert LLP. “Voting is a fundamental right in the United States and we are pleased to assist in ensuring that it is available to all those who are eligible.”
The other litigation partners included the Georgia State Conference for the NAACP, The Coalition for the People's Agenda, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Demos, The American Civil Liberties Union, and pro bono counsel.