Brief of National Coalitions as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondents

Brief of National Coalitions as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondents

September 22, 2017
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SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

This case presents the question of whether the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) allows states to initiate the process for removing citizens from the registration rolls based solely on their failure to vote. Allowing states to disenfranchise voters on this basis would be contrary to the NVRA’s general purpose of broadening participation of the electorate and the Act’s specific goal of expanding access for historically disenfranchised groups. It would also unnecessarily and unjustifiably tread on the fundamental right to vote of many Americans already facing significant obstacles to political participation.

While for some Americans voting is an easy and routine part of civic participation, for large sectors of the American electorate—including people with disabilities, older persons, working and low-income people, and the homeless—this is not the case. Limited voting hours, erratic job schedules, child care needs, the closing of neighborhood polling places, inadequate or inaccessible transportation, and the costs associated with obtaining a photo identification, to name a few obstacles, mean that many eligible voters are unable to cast ballots on Election Day—despite registering where necessary, being motivated to vote in the particular election, and in some cases, even arriving at the correct polling place and waiting in line. Additionally, voters with disabilities—who also disproportionately experience poverty and its attendant obstacles to voting—face an election system in which less than one third of polling places are fully accessible. Finally, older voters, who are disproportionately represented among voters with disabilities, often face formidable barriers to voting and will face even greater barriers if they are struck from the rolls despite years living in the same place, sometimes for decades.

Because of these barriers, voters with disabilities and low-income voters vote at lower rates than the rest of the public, and working people and older voters participate at rates lower than they would absent those barriers. As a result, the harm of Ohio’s challenged removal procedure (the “Supplemental Pro-cess”) falls disproportionately on those citizens for whom various features of the voting process already present signi cant obstacles to participation.

Amici—organizations comprised of and advocating for people with disabilities, older voters, working people, and low-income and homeless voters—submit this brief to present to the Court the severity, breadth, and impact of these obstacles on eligible voters. Amici submit that the overlapping barriers to voting noted above and described in greater detail below demonstrably affect the voting patterns of large sectors of the electorate.

The underlying assumption of the “Supplemental Process”—that a voter who has not voted in two years has likely moved—is fundamentally awed. Nonvoting can often be explained by the remaining barriers to political participation for historically disenfranchised voters. By removing eligible voters facing these dif culties from the registration rolls, Ohio’s process compounds these obstacles and imposes unnecessary burdens on access to the franchise.

Congress passed the NVRA with the express purpose of expanding participation of the electorate and the specific goal of lowering barriers to voting for historically disenfranchised groups. In passing the NVRA, Congress recognized that there are “many factors involved in the lack of public participation,” some of which are “largely beyond the control of Congress” and that it could not, in one sweep, remove all of those barriers. H.R. Rep. No. 103-9, at 3 (1993). Yet, in an area under its control, “the difficulties encountered by eligible citizens in becoming registered to vote,” it sought to reduce those obstacles to “the absolute minimum.” Id.

A key element of the NVRA’s scheme to lower registration barriers is its sections that seek to ensure that “a voter should remain on the list of voters so long as the individual remains eligible to vote in that jurisdiction.” Id. at 18. By keeping eligible voters on the registration lists—even when they have not voted—the NVRA eliminates a major barrier to future political participation and “give[s] the greatest number of people an opportunity to participate.” Id. at 3. Any other reading of the NVRA’s list maintenance provisions would be at odds with its purposes and create constitutional concerns by erecting unnecessary and unjusti ed barriers to the exercise of the right to vote. 

 

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