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DOJ Enforces the NVRA Against Rhode Island

Today the Department of Justice announced that a settlement has been reached in the first suit brought under the Obama administration to enforce the public agency voter registration provisions of the NVRA. The DOJ sued Rhode Island public assistance, WIC, rehabilitative services, developmental disabilities services and mental health services offices, as well as the Rhode Island Secretary of State and the Rhode Island Board of Elections, for failing to enforce and comply with Section 7 of the NVRA. NVRA Section 7 requires public assistance offices and disability offices to offer voter registration services to every client that applies for benefits, renews benefits, or changes his or her address. Read the DOJ’s press release on the lawsuit here.

Pending approval of the court, the settlement reached by the DOJ and Rhode Island requires public assistance, WIC, rehabilitative services, developmental disabilities services and mental health services offices to:
  • Distribute voter registration forms with each application for the office’s services, recertification, renewal, or change of address request;
  • Provide each applicant with the same degree of assistance in completing the voter registration application forms that the office provides for the completion of its own forms;
  • Transmit completed voter registration forms to appropriate election officials;
  • Develop and implement uniform procedures pertaining to the distribution, collection, transmission, and retention of voter registration applications and voter preference forms;
  • Develop and implement mandatory, annual NVRA training;
  • Track and review monthly application data as to whether those data reflect low activity or implementation problems;
  • Mail voter registration application and voter preference forms to clients who will not come into in-person contact with a caseworker in the course of their transaction with the office; and
  • Ensure that all online and telephonic application, recertification, renewal, or change of address procedures include means to provide online clients immediate NVRA-compliant voter registration opportunities.
The Rhode Island Board of Elections is tasked with data monitoring and auditing to ensure compliance with the NVRA. Project Vote applauds the DOJ for enforcing this important legislation that ensures low-income citizens the same access to voting as more affluent citizens. Project Vote and its partners (including Demos, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) have been working to ensure NVRA compliance since 2006, bringing private litigation in several states, and achieving settlements in Missouri and Ohio that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of additional public assistance clients applying to register to vote. This settlement with Rhode Island is an important step by the DOJ towards ensuring that all states are complying with this important law.




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