Opinion in NAACP v. Georgia, National Voter Registration Act

Opinion in NAACP v. Georgia, National Voter Registration Act

February 1, 2012
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On February 1, 2012 a U.S. District Court denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a Demos and a coalition of voting rights groups to remedy the State of Georgia's failure to provide voter registration services at public assistance offices, as required by Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). 
 
The court ruled that, contrary to the state's practice, the NVRA requires that public assistance agency clients be provided with the opportunity to receive a voter registration application every time they apply for or renew benefits or submit a change of address. This must include instances where clients interact with the agency by remote means (e.g., by telephone, internet or mail). In addition, the judge found that, to the extent that Georgia's public assistance agencies do not presumptively distribute voter registration applications (and, instead, require clients to request them affirmatively), that the State is likely violating the NVRA.
 
Section 7 of the NVRA requires that all public assistance offices in Georgia distribute a voter registration application each time a client applies for benefits, recertifies, or fills out a change of address form, unless the client declines an application in writing. The lawsuit alleges that Georgia has been largely ignoring this mandate for many years.  The Georgia Secretary of State has admitted that the state did not have consistent policies for the implementation of Section 7 at public assistance offices, but has nevertheless steadfastly refused to take appropriate corrective action to remedy past violations and prevent future violations by implementing appropriate registration procedures, and appropriate training, oversight and monitoring of DHS personnel and offices.
 
As a result of these ongoing violations, thousands of Georgia's low-income citizens who apply for and/or receive public assistance, including members of the Georgia NAACP and members of the Peoples' Agenda's constituent organizations, have not been and are not being offered the opportunity to register to vote or to change their voter address upon moving to a new residence. Plaintiffs have expended and continue to expend substantial time and resources in an effort to make voter registration available to these low-income citizens — which would have been unnecessary had defendants complied with the law. Thousands of eligible voters remain unregistered and effectively disenfranchised as a result of defendants' actions and inaction.
 
As discussed in Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of persons registering to vote at Georgia public assistance offices since the NVRA first took effect in the mid-1990s. During the 1995-1996 reporting period, DHS received over 100,000 registration applications, but in 2010 the number of registrations had dropped to a mere 4,430. By comparison, in 2009, Georgia, on average, received nearly 70,000 applications each month for just one of the public assistance programs (Food Stamps) covered by the NVRA's voter registration requirements.