Harkless v. Brunner: National Voter Registration Act in the State of Ohio

Harkless v. Brunner: National Voter Registration Act in the State of Ohio

November 30, 2009
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The Ohio Secretary of State (SOS) and the Director of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) entered into a settlement agreement on November 25, 2009, concluding a lawsuit brought three years earlier by low-income residents Carrie Harkless and Tameca Mardis and ACORN to ensure that the state provided low-income citizens with voter registration services at public assistance offices, as required by Section 7 of the NVRA.

TOP FACTS:

The settlement agreement, in effect until June 30, 2013, contains the following terms:

  • The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Servicesmust notify all relevant county staff of the settlement terms within 10 days of the signing of the settlement agreement.
  • New voter registration materials shall be created.  Voter registration will be integrated into benefits forms.  A poster that announces the availability of voter registration will be created and distributed. 
  • The SOS and ODJFS each must designate staff responsible for ensuring NVRA compliance. 
  • Voter registration processes shall be clarified.  ODJFS will ensure that an individual requesting an application, completing a reapplication, or changing his or her address for benefits – whether in-person at the office or by mail, Internet, or telephone – will receive a voter registration application and declination/Notice of Rights form, and assistance in completing them, unless such assistance is refused.  The SOS will encourage and recommend to CDJFS that relevant personnel verbally ask individuals if they wish to register to vote and offer assistance in doing so.
  • ODJFS shall ensure that all on-line applications, reapplications, or change of address processes concerning public assistance shall include voter registration opportunities including a voter registration application and declination/notice of rights form.  Assistance in completing these forms shall be provided to the same degree as is provided with regard to completion of the online applications, reapplications, or change of address processes, unless the voter registration applicant refuses such assistance.
  • Training materials must be created, made accessible and distributed regularly. 
  • CDJFS staff must receive regular training on NVRA compliance and ongoing guidance about the NVRA must be available to them.
  • The ODJFS computer system shall be modified to require and report information indicating  NVRA compliance, and the CDJFS and the county boards of elections must report certain information to the ODJFS and the SOS.
  • Both ODJFS and the SOS must review monthly data and engage in on-site observational review to spot potential NVRA compliance problems.  In addition, the SOS shall use the data as the basis for the federally required biennial reporting to the United States Elections Assistance Commission. 
  • Both ODJFS and the SOS will ensure compliance by non-compliant CDJFS through specified enforcement mechanisms.