Out of 11 offices visited, 8 were not offering voter registration and 88 percent of clients interviewed reported that they were not offered voter registration.
Through public records review and multiple field investigations, it was determined that public assistance clients were not receiving voter registration services when applying for, renewing, or recertifying their benefits, or updating their addresses with the state’s public assistance agencies. Data showing the number of voter registration applications submitted at public assistance offices also indicated that agencies were not meeting their voter registration obligations: over a 12 year period the number of voter registration applications submitted reduced– from 103,942 at the peak (1995-1996) to 21,762 in 2007-2008. This represents a 79 percent decline despite a sharp increase in the number of clients seeking public assistance benefits. The field investigations revealed corroborating evidence of non-compliance. Out of 11 offices visited, 8 were not offering voter registration and 88 percent of clients interviewed reported that they were not offered voter registration. As a response, on January 25, 2011, Demos, Project Vote and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a notice letter to the Georgia Secretary of State on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP (Georgia NAACP) and the eligible voters it represents informing the state that its Department of Human Services (DHS) was failing to provide the voter registration services required under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
Section 7 of the NVRA states that each public assistance office must, at a minimum (i) distribute voter registration application forms; (ii) assist applicants in completing the voter registration forms; (iii) accept completed voter registration application forms and forward them to the appropriate election official.
The failure of Georgia public assistance agencies to comply with the NVRA negatively impacted the Georgia NAACP, the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda (Peoples’ Agenda) and Georgia resident Craig Murphy. Mr. Murphy, a qualified Georgia voter, had not been provided the opportunity to update his voter registration during a change of address transaction at DHS. His experience was shared by individuals residing across the state. In order to remedy the state’s failure to provide voter registration to public assistance clients, the Georgia NAACP and the Peoples’ Agenda had to expend additional resources to conduct voter registration drives for people who would have been registered by the state had Georgia been meeting its voter registration obligations. The organizations had to expend additional resources, including staff and volunteer time on efforts to assist individuals with voter registration (including updating prior voter registrations). These efforts diverted resources needed for full achievement of their goals and this injury would continue until the state remedied the non-compliance.
In June 2011, after the state failed to remedy the problems identified in the January 2011 letter, the Georgia Department of Human Services and the Secretary of State were sued based on clear evidence that the Georgia public assistance agencies were not complying with their obligation to provide voter registration services as required by Section 7 of the NVRA.
After extensive negotiations, the defendants agreed to a comprehensive settlement in 2012 requiring substantial improvements in procedures for providing voter registration services through state public assistance agencies. The public assistance agencies agreed to create new voter registration and training materials, designate staff responsible for ensuring NVRA compliance, clarify voter registration processes for all covered transactions done in-office, by mail, over the phone or Internet, regular employee training on NVRA compliance, monthly data reporting and review, and investigate potential compliance problems identified at local offices. The number of voter registrations collected by Georgia public assistance agencies increased by an estimated 250,000 as a result of our intervention.
Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and Coalition for the People’s Agenda
Project Vote, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP and Dechert LLP