Voting Rights Watchdogs Ask Court To Protect Missouri Voters Before Elections

Release Date: 
May 21, 2018

Missouri Secretary of State, Department of Revenue in Knowing, Ongoing Violation of the National Voter Registration Act

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The League of Women Voters of Missouri and the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City Chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) are seeking immediate relief to protect Missouri voters from being disenfranchised in the 2018 primary and general elections as a result of the state’s ongoing violation of federal voting rights law.

Today, Dēmos, Advancement Project’s national office, and the ACLU filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on behalf of the groups urging the Court take immediate measures to ensure all Missouri residents who update their address with the state’s motor vehicle agency, the Department of Revenue (DOR), are able to have their voter registration information updated at the same time. Failure to provide such services is a direct violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and has serious consequences for the ability of Missouri voters to exercise their right to vote. 

Under Missouri law, if a voter’s registration information does not reflect their current address they are denied a regular ballot. Instead, such voters must cast a provisional ballot and if they have moved from one election jurisdiction to another their ballot will not be counted. Because St. Louis County and Kansas City are their own election jurisdictions, the moment a voter moves outside the city limits they will be disenfranchised unless their registration address is updated. Under federal law, any time a voter reports a change of address with the state’s motor vehicle agency, the agency is supposed to automatically update the voter’s address with the relevant election officials unless the voter asks that the update not occur. The Missouri Secretary of State and Director of DOR are failing to meet this obligation when changes of address are reported online or by mail.

To remedy these violations of the law, relief is requested that would ensure that anyone who submitted a change of address using DOR’s online or mail systems since November 2016 will:

  • Have their provisional ballots counted; and
  • Receive a voter registration form at the address on file with DOR, as well as information on the polling location for that address.

In addition, the preliminary injunction motion requests that the Court order that DOR’s online and mail change-of-address systems be amended to offer the voter registration services required under federal law.

Read the preliminary injunction.

In response, the following statements were released:

Kathleen Boswell, President of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, said: “Each year, one of the major causes of disenfranchisement in the State results from when Missouri voters appear at the polls and find out that they are not registered at their current address. Bringing DOR’s voter registration practices into compliance with the NVRA would help reduce the number of qualified voters being shut out of the political process.”

Keith Robinson, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s St. Louis Chapter, said: “People of color and low-income individuals are less likely to own homes or have dependable transportation, which results in more interaction with DOR. By failing to provide Missouri voters with the address update services required under federal law, the Secretary and the Director of DOR are effectively shutting the doors to our democracy on individuals whose voices are already underrepresented and too often ignored.” 

Patricia A. Jones, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s Greater Kansas City Chapter, said: “Problems with voter registration are one of the leading causes of disenfranchisement in the nationally. Missouri is no different. By failing to provide federally-mandated voter registration services, Missouri is contributing to these problems. The only counter our organization has is to expend scarce and limited resources trying to make sure that people are properly registered.”

Naila Awan, Counsel at Dēmos, said: “The right to vote is the core of our nation’s democracy. Missouri’s disregard of the NVRA is limiting access to the ballot and drowning out the voices of voters who deserve to be heard.”

Denise Lieberman, Co-Director of the Power and Democracy Program at Advancement Project’s national office and Coordinator of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said: "Missouri’s ongoing failure to provide voter registration services required by federal law and update voters’ information when they move makes it more difficult for election officials to maintain accurate voter rolls, creates confusion at the polls, and strips Missourians of their right to vote. Communities of color, young voters and low income voters are hardest hit by these failures. These violations need to be remedied now to ensure that all eligible voters are able to cast a ballot in this year’s elections."

Tony Rothert, Legal Director, ACLU of Missouri, said: “The court must intervene to stop Missouri from ignoring its obligations under federal law to make it easier for Missourians to vote. Our democracy works best when people are not hindered from participating because of the arbitrary choice of government officials to comply with the law.”

Davin Rosborough, Staff Attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said: “Missouri has had months of notice that they are violating federal voting rights law but have done nothing to fix their noncompliance. These remedies are necessary to ensure that more qualified Missourians have their votes counted in August and November and are not denied the franchise merely because DOR failed to update their voter registration.”

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