Groups file suit, say states violated voter registration law

Thursday, July 9, 2009 | 10:32 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — States across the country are violating part of the federal motor voter law requiring voter registration help for low-income residents, according to a coalition of advocacy groups trying to force change through the courts.

The groups filed a lawsuit in Indiana on Thursday and planned to sue in New Mexico later in the day, on the heels of a successful settlement in Missouri. They said the problem is not isolated in those few states but widespread across the nation, and they are trying to help other states follow the law without litigation.

Brenda Wright is director of the Democracy Program at the nonprofit group Demos, one of the groups behind the lawsuits, said 2.6 million people were registered through public assistance offices in 1995-1996, the first two years the law was in effect. But she said registration has dropped precipitously throughout the nation since then, as much as 90 percent or more in some states.

Wright said 2 million to 3 million more low-income people could be registered each year if all states followed the law.

The nonprofit groups said that the states are violating the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as "motor voter" because it requires states to offer voter registration when residents are applying for a driver's license or state ID. To reach low-income citizens who are less likely to own vehicles, the law also requires that voter registration be distributed along with applications for public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid.

The coalition of advocacy groups, which also includes the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Project Vote and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that most states have programs for driver's license registration but that many are ignoring the public assistance requirement.


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