Three nonpartisan voter registration organizations—the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City Chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute—informed the Missouri Secretary of State and the head of Missouri’s motor vehicle agency, the Department of Revenue (“DOR”) that the state was failing to provide its residents with the voter registration opportunities through DOR that are required under the motor voter provisions (“Section 5”) of the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”). The organizations sent the Secretary and the Director of DOR a notice letter explaining that the state was failing to provide the voter registration services required under Section 5 during in-person, online, and mail change-of-address transactions, as well as during mail transactions conducted by active-duty military personnel and their dependents.
No changes were made after the notice letter was sent and, on April 17, 2018, the organizations sued the Secretary and the Director of DOR. On May 18, 2018, the Plaintiff organizations then sought a preliminary injunction to address one of the most egregious violations of Section 5—the state’s failure to provide registered voters with any voter registration services during online and mail change-of-address transactions.
Under Section 5 of the NVRA, when a registered voter updates their address with the state’s motor vehicle agency, the agency is supposed to automatically update the voter’s registration address unless the voter requests that that update not occur. Plaintiffs sought relief in advance of the November General Election to ensure that no Missouri voter would be disenfranchised as a result of the Defendants’ failure to provide these address update services.
In Missouri, if a voter moves outside of their election jurisdiction and does not update their voter registration address, they will not be able to vote if they show up at their polling location. This particularly affects voters in the state’s population centers—both Kansas City and St. Louis City act as individual election jurisdictions that operate separately from the counties that surround them. This means that a voter who moves down the street could have moved between election jurisdictions without ever realizing it.
Plaintiffs noted that they receive numerous calls on Election Day hotlines from voters who are unable to cast a ballot that counts because their registration information is not current. As a result, they have expended time and resources registering license holders who were not registered at their current addresses—individuals who Defendants should have provided services to—at the expense of registering new voters. Further, League members who used DOR’s online change-of-address platform after a move noted that they were denied the opportunity to update their voter registration information and had to take separate steps to do so.
In considering Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, a federal judge in the Western District of Missouri ordered that, prior to the November 2018 election: (1) voter registration forms and polling location information be mailed to Missouri voters who used the state motor vehicle agency's online and mail forms to update their address since August 1, 2017, and (2) changes be made to the online and main change of address forms to better comply with the NVRA.
On November 21, 2019, the Parties entered a settlement agreement resolving the merits of the case. They will continue to litigate the issue of attorneys’ fees.
League of Women Voters of Missouri, Greater Kansas City Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, St. Louis Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Demos’ co-counsel on this case are Advancement Project, ACLU, ACLU Missouri, and Covington & Burling LLP.