Study Shows Missouri's Noncompliance with National Voter Registration Act
August 23, 2007
Jefferson City, MO - Today, Project Vote and Demos, representing the community group ACORN, sent a letter of intent to sue the Missouri Department of Social Services if the state doesn’t comply with a requirement of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to provide voter registration opportunities in public assistance offices. The notice letter was sent concurrently with the release of a Project Vote report detailing the state’s noncompliance.
In “Investigating Voting Rights in Missouri: An Assessment of Compliance with the National Voter Registration Act in Public Assistance Agencies,” author Douglas Hess reports that registrations from the state’s public assistance agencies have dropped from 143,000 in 1995-1996 to just 16,000 in 2005-2006. After carefully assessing the available data against possible scenarios that explain the decline, Hess concludes noncompliance by the state is responsible.
“Our study compares the official voter registration data from the state over time and to Census data on voter registrations,’’ said Doug Hess of Project Vote, author of the report. “Although hundreds of thousands of citizens in Missouri remain unregistered, many of them low-income citizens, the number of people the state is registering in agencies is one-tenth what it once was.”
In a letter to state Social Services Director Deborah Scott, attorneys for Project Vote and Demos wrote, “substantial evidence demonstrates Missouri DSS’ failure to provide mandatory voter registration services at its offices as required by the NVRA.” The organizations are asking for the state to outline steps to assure future compliance to prove registration opportunities. “In the absence of such a plan, we will have no alternative but to initiate litigation,” the letter states.
“Today we are calling on the state of Missouri to do its job under federal law and help Missourians exercise their basic right to vote,” said Claudie Harris, Missouri ACORN chairperson. “We hold Governor Blunt responsible for failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act.”
The NVRA, commonly known as the “Motor Voter” law for its requirement that states provide voter registration opportunities when residents apply for drivers' licenses, also requires states to offer voter registration during most transactions at public assistance agencies. Congress included this provision to ensure that those who do not visit motor vehicle departments still have an opportunity to register to vote. Citizens with low incomes are among those least likely to have drivers' licenses and therefore the public assistance requirement is crucial for including them in the political process. It is the public assistance aspects of the law that Missouri has ignored, according to the report.
“The NVRA was designed to bring more Americans into the electoral process. The state's disregard for the law and the civil rights of low-income Missourians is deeply disturbing and must be remedied now,” stated Brenda Wright, Legal Director of the Democracy Program at Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, one of the attorneys signing the notice letter to DSS.
Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides research, guidance and technical assistance to voter participation and voting rights organizations. Project Vote has been strengthening democracy since 1994 (www.projectvote.org).
Demos is a national, non-partisan public policy, research and advocacy center (www.demos.org).
ACORN is the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, with over 350,000 member families organized into more than 1000 neighborhood chapters in 103 cities across the country (www.acorn.org).