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Welfare Agencies Are Failing to Help Poor People Vote


Last week, Massachusetts became the latest state to either settle or lose in litigation over complaints that it wasn’t providing adequate voter registration services at welfare offices.

The settlement is part of a broad effort by voting rights groups to reverse the decline in voter registrations at public assistance offices, which Congress intended to serve as a mechanism for signing up low-income voters. National voting rights groups argue that the decline in registrations is because of improper implementation by staff at government welfare offices. (...)

When public assistance offices aren’t complying with the NVRA, it’s often because employees in a human services environment “don’t perceive themselves as elections folks,” said Lisa Danetz, the legal director at Demos. “They’re thinking, ‘how do we get these life-sustaining benefits to people?’”

In Massachusetts, Project Vote, Demos and another voting rights group, investigated the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), a human services agency that oversees food stamps and family cash assistance. The groups said that public assistance forms did not always include a question about voter registration -- and even when they did, that was often the full extent of registration outreach.