February 02, 2009
Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Blog Voting Matters
Today, the Indianapolis Star reports on Project Vote's effort to get Indiana, one of the “worst states in the nation at registering low-income people to vote,” to comply with federal voter registration law.
On Jan. 8, Project Vote and ACORN sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Secretary of State Todd Rokita, calling on him to bring the state into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, which requires public assistance agencies to offer voter registration services to their clients. The Indianapolis Star investigated and confirmed Project Vote's findings that access to voter registration at social service offices was at best, difficult to obtain, and at worst, unavailable.
“Project Vote and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, say their November survey of nine Indiana Family and Social Services Administration offices in Lake and Marion counties found that none were providing voter registration forms to clients,” the Star reports. “Eight didn't even have the forms available, the groups said.”
While Project Vote found that some offices were not even aware that they were required to provide voter registration, Star reporters were met with skepticism and a twenty minute wait before being handed a voter registration form.
Project Vote election counsel Nicole Kovite "said such responses may be the reason why, according to census data, Indiana is among the worst states in the nation at registering low-income people to vote,” the Star reports. In 2006, nearly half (49%) of low income Hoosiers were not registered to vote.
Compliance with NVRA has been a challenge on the national level since its inception in the mid '90s. “In 1995 and 1996 -- the first election cycle after the 1993 federal law, better known as the Motor Voter Act, was passed -- Indiana registered 83,853 people at state social-services offices, according to the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.” However, by 2008, only 227 applications came from social services offices, “despite the intense interest in the presidential race,” according to the Star. This figure is shockingly low in comparison to the 349,108 registrations collected last year by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which is also required to provide voter registration under NVRA.
“In a letter, Jerold A. Bonnet, the counsel in the secretary of state's office, told the groups they should contact the Indiana Election Division, and touted the office's voter registration efforts, saying Indiana has had record increases.”
“Kovite said the organizations will send an 'intent to sue' notice to the election division, triggering a 90-day window for the state to take action or face a lawsuit,” the Star reports. “The voting-rights groups have taken such legal action before, including in Ohio and Missouri, where cases are pending in court.”
Last July, a federal judge granted Project Vote and ACORN's “motion for a preliminary injunction compelling the state to comply with the law. Since then... more than 57,000 voter registration applications have been collected in that state's social-services offices.”