The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Federal Judge Orders Missouri to Register Low-Income Voters

A federal court Tuesday ordered the Missouri Department of Social Services immediately to comply with a federal law requiring the state's social welfare offices provide voter registration applications and assistance to their clients.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey, came in a lawsuit filed in April 2008 by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and St. Louis resident Dionne O'Neal charging widespread violations of the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA, commonly called the motor voter bill, requires state agencies to ask the public if they want to register to vote and to help them do so. Since the law's passage in 1993, many states have only asked people applying for driver's licenses.

The Missouri litigation was part of a nationwide effort to push states to fully implement the NVRA's voter registration provisions.

The ruling yesterday followed written submissions and a one-day preliminary injunction hearing on July 9, 2008, at which lawyers from Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP and Project Vote, presented evidence that, over the past several years, the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) violated the NVRA by failing to provide Ms. O'Neal and tens of thousands of other low-income Missourians with the opportunity to register to vote or change their voter registration address during visits to the offices of DSS agencies.

The "substantial evidence" of voting rights violations cited by the Court in its ruling included:

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