Groups Threaten to Sue Nevada Over Longstanding Voting Rights Violations

Release Date: 
March 7, 2016

LAS VEGAS and NEW YORK (March 7, 2016) ­– Voting rights advocates have sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Nevada officials, warning that the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles is failing to meet its federally-mandated voter registration obligations and threatening litigation if the state does not comply with the law.

Attorneys representing Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and Nevada resident Eleanor Newell sent the letter to Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske and Terri L. Albertson, Director of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Counsel from Dēmos, Project Vote, and the Las Vegas office of law firm Armstrong Teasdale LLP cite clear evidence that the DMV is neglecting its obligations under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), failing to provide proper voter registration services to Nevadans.

“The Department of Motor Vehicles makes voters jump through too many hoops to get and stay registered,” said Ben Monterroso, Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. “The State of Nevada should be making it easier, not harder, for citizens to participate in the democratic process.”  

The NVRA, or Motor Voter Law, was passed by Congress to increase the number of registered citizens by greatly expanding registration opportunities, including simultaneous procedures for driver’s licensing and voter registration. Under the NVRA, a driver’s license application or renewal must also serve as a voter registration application. The law prohibits states from requiring voters to complete an entirely new voter registration form that asks for information already provided on the driver’s license form. Additionally, the law requires states to update their voter registration records whenever a voter submits a change of address to the DMV, unless the voter opts out.  These provisions were designed to not only make registering a straightforward process, but also to ensure that Nevadans maintain their ability to vote after the initial registration.

As the letter outlines, the Nevada DMV is violating federal law by requiring applicants to complete an entirely separate voter registration application, one that requests much of the same information already provided on the driver’s license application. 

 “The NVRA was intended to make voter registration an integrated and seamless part of applying for a driver’s license,” said Scott Novakowski, counsel at Dēmos and an attorney in the matter. “The Nevada DMV requires voters to go through exactly the kind of multi-step, duplicative process that Motor Voter was designed to eliminate.”

Additionally, the NVRA requires that a change of address submitted to the DMV must also be applied to voter registration unless the voter opts out. However, Nevada's DMV forms require registered voters to opt-in to updating their registration addresses­, and only if they move within a county.  If the applicants move to a new county, they must complete an entirely separate voter registration application­. This is a direct violation of the NVRA.

“The NVRA is America's most important federal law to facilitate voter registration, and it was designed to make sure state governments take responsibility for helping people register, and for keeping the voter rolls up to date,” said Sarah Brannon, Director of  Project Vote’s Government Agency Voter Registration Program and an attorney in the matter.  “Nevada’s procedures are clearly violating that law, and betraying its intent by shoving the burden for registering back onto the individual.”

 “As an organization dedicated to building political power for the Latino community by increasing voter registration and civic participation, we are deeply concerned about the unnecessary barriers to registration set up by the DMV,” said Monterroso.  “In passing Motor Voter, Congress intended to make voter registration convenient and accessible to all.”

“The passing of the NVRA in 1993 was a huge victory for those who believe voter registration should be easy and accessible,” said James Tucker, counsel at Armstrong Teasdale LLP in Las Vegas and an attorney in the matter.  “Now, over twenty years later, Nevada has a responsibility to its citizens to ensure the law is properly implemented.”

Lack of effective oversight of the DMV’s voter registration responsibilities is also a problem.  Ms. Newell, a Nevada resident, could not vote in the 2014 election because of misinformation provided by a DMV employee.   Shortly after moving to Nevada in 2014, Ms. Newell went to a DMV office to get a driver’s license and register to vote.  Not only did she have to affirmatively request a voter registration application­–itself a violation of the NVRA–but she was also assured by a DMV employee that she had met the voter registration deadline for the upcoming election. As she found out later, the deadline for registering at the DMV had in fact already passed. Had the Secretary of State provided proper oversight as required by the NVRA, Ms. Newell would have been able to register at the clerk’s office in time to participate in the election. 

“Voting is important to me,” said Ms. Newell.  “I specifically requested and filled out a separate voter registration application and confirmed that I had met the deadline.  Despite these steps, the DMV's misinformation prevented me from voting in an important election.  The Secretary and the DMV must ensure that the correct procedures are in place and that employees are properly trained so that this does not happen again.”

The letter noted the attorneys’ and clients’ desire to meet with Secretary Cegavske and Director Albertson as soon as possible to develop a comprehensive plan for compliance.  Under the NVRA, the parties may file a lawsuit if the issue is not resolved within 90 days.

Media Contacts:

Dēmos:
Donte Donald, Associate Director of Communications
ddonald@demos.org
212-485-6062
http://www.demos.org

Project Vote:
Michael McDunnah, Communications Director
mmcdunnah@projectvote.org
202-905-1397
http://projectvote.org

Mi Familia Vota:
Felipe Benitez, National Director of Development and Communications felipeb@mifamiliavota.org
202-215-9664
http://mifamiliavota.org