Montgomery, AL – The Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, represented by attorneys from Project Vote, Demos, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the law firms Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP and Copeland Franco, signed settlement agreements with the Alabama Secretary of State, the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), and the Alabama Medicaid Agency addressing deficiencies in the state agencies’ provision of voter registration services and setting out procedures intended to guarantee compliance with Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
On June 13, 2012, the voting rights groups sent a letter to Alabama state officials outlining the results of an investigation that uncovered alleged violations of Section 7 of the NVRA. Commonly known as the “Motor Voter” law, the NVRA requires motor vehicle agencies, disability offices, and public assistance agencies that provide services such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other benefits to proactively offer voter registration services to their clients every time they apply for or renew benefits or submit a change of address. Since the implementation of the NVRA, an estimated 141 million Americans have applied to get on the voter rolls through the registration services the NVRA requires at these agencies.
The agreements, which run through November 2016, come as a result of more than a year of negotiation between state officials and the Alabama NAACP, represented by the voting rights groups and law firms cited above. Alabama Medicaid and DHR have agreed to take important steps to ensure compliance with the NVRA, including automatically distributing voter registration applications as part of the application, renewal, and change of address processes. Clients whose transactions are completed remotely will be mailed voter registration applications. The Secretary of State’s office and Alabama NAACP, through its representation, will monitor compliance with the agreements to ensure that voter registration opportunities are being provided.
“This is a win-win situation for everyone. Alabama will take another step in becoming compliant with the NVRA, and most importantly citizens will be able to have another opportunity to register to vote and participate in one of the basic and fundamental rights of all citizens, the right to vote. We encourage all citizens who use these services to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Benard Simelton, President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP.
"This is a good day for democracy and voter participation in Alabama," said Demos Counsel Adam Lioz. "The Alabama Secretary of State and the heads of the Medicaid Agency and Department of Human Resources and their staffs have worked diligently and professionally to come to an agreement that will help public assistance clients exercise their freedom to vote. Ensuring that voter registration is available at the state agencies low-income residents use most helps all Alabamans participate in our democracy regardless of wealth - which is especially important in these hard economic times."
Ensuring that voter registration is available at the state agencies low-income residents use most helps all Alabamans participate in our democracy regardless of wealth
“With these settlement agreements, low-income residents of Alabama will have the access to voter registration that they are guaranteed under federal law,” said Sarah Brannon, director of the Public Agency Registration Program at Project Vote.
“We are pleased that Alabama’s Secretary of State and public assistance agencies have committed to taking the steps needed to ensure that Alabama citizens have the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance offices," said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers' Committee's Voting Rights Project. "We look forward to working with the agencies while the agreement is in place to make voter registration a standard component of public assistance agency programs."
“I’m just proud that our state officials resolved these voting issues in a positive way without the necessity of litigation. This resolution is good for our state and for the voters in our state,” said Montgomery lawyer Bobby Segall.
In the past several years, lawsuits filed by voting rights groups have forced other states neglecting the NVRA into compliance with dramatic results. For example, Missouri public assistance agencies received more than 500,000 applications in the four years following a successful court action to improve compliance in that state. Prior to a 2008 court order, the state had averaged fewer than 8,000 per year. And, after a similar case was settled in Ohio in 2009, voter registration applications from public assistance agencies in the state increased from an average of 25,000 applications per year to more than 200,000 per year. Overall, voting rights advocates’ work has accounted for over 2 million applications received at public agencies.
“We are thrilled that Alabama residents will now join the more than 2 million Americans who have had the chance to apply to register to vote through public assistance agencies as a direct result of our enforcement efforts,” concluded Simelton.