Complaint Against State of Nevada for NVRA Non-Compliance

Complaint Against State of Nevada for NVRA Non-Compliance

June 11, 2012

Demos, along with a coalition of national voting rights groups including Project Vote, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, and the law firm of Dechert LLP, filed a Complaint against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Director of the department of Health & Human Services, Michael Willden in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.   The plaintiffs represented include the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Las Vegas Branch of the NAACP (Las Vegas NAACP), and Reno-Sparks Branch of the NAACP (Reno-Sparks NAACP)

The Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to redress defendants’ ongoing disregard of their obligations under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the “NVRA”).  The NVRA was adopted with widespread bipartisan support as part of an effort to make voter registration more widely available and accessible, thereby increasing the number of properly registered eligible voters for federal elections.  The statute also reflects Congress’ intent to combat the disproportionate harm to voter participation by various groups, including racial minorities, caused by discriminatory and unfair registration laws and procedures.

Section 7 of the NVRA requires that all public assistance offices in states subject to the NVRA, distribute a voter registration application with each application for public assistance, and each recertification, renewal, or change of address relating to an individual’s receipt of public assistance.  Section 7 of the NVRA reflects Congress’ objective to ensure that registration is accessible for the poor and persons with disabilities who do not have driver’s licenses.

The plaintiffs all conduct voter registration activities in the state, and they argue that the state’s lack of compliance with the NVRA has caused them to expend resources registering voters when that time and effort could have been better used elsewhere. 

Specifically, the Complaint alleges that, based on Nevada’s own submissions to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the number of voter registration applications submitted at Nevada public assistance offices decreased by a staggering 95% in recent years, from 39,444 in 1999-2000 to just 1,677 in 2009-2010.  This steep decline in voter registrations is particularly significant because it occurred during the same period that both the population of the state and the number of applicants for public assistance were increasing. 

The Complaint asserts that a majority of clients seeking public assistance services are simply not being offered voter registration opportunities, and many public assistance agencies do not even have voter registration forms available on request.  A recent survey of 51 individuals leaving public assistance offices showed that four of the five people who specifically requested in writing to register to vote were not given voter registration applications.

The state has twenty days in which to serve a response.