Demos, Advancement Project, and ACLU File Suit Against State of Missouri for Violation of National Voter Registration Act

Demos, Advancement Project, and ACLU File Suit Against State of Missouri for Violation of National Voter Registration Act

April 17, 2018


1. This action concerns the ongoing failure of Defendant officials of the State of Missouri to comply with portions of the “Motor Voter” provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, 52 U.S.C. § 20501, et seq. (“NVRA”).

2. Section 5 of the NVRA requires states to provide voter registration opportunities when individuals apply for or renew their driver’s and nondriver’s licenses (together, “licenses”). It further requires that when a voter updates their address information with the state motor vehicle agency, the state must automatically update the individual’s voter registration record as well, unless the voter specifically declines to have their voter-registration information updated.1 This change-of-address provision is central to the NVRA because it allows localities to maintain accurate voter rolls, while placing little to no burden on the voter. Moreover, failure of states to update registration information can seriously abridge the ability of voters to cast their ballots.

3. The Missouri Secretary of State and the Director of the state motor vehicle agency, the Department of Revenue (“DOR”), are flouting their NVRA obligations with respect to change-of-address transactions, mail transactions for active-duty military personnel and their dependents, and certain in-person license transactions for Missourians over the age of 65, among others. Rather than address these violations after Plaintiffs provided notice, Defendants made the violations worse.

4. Defendants’ violations have concrete consequences for the voters of Missouri, up to and including total disenfranchisement. The scope of the impact on voters with respect to change-of-address allegations is particularly notable. According to United States Census data, in 2015 and 2016, over 580,000 Missourians moved within the state, 200,000 of them to a different county. For those who move from one county to another without updating their voting registration address before the registration deadline, Missouri will not count their vote at all. If the voter has moved from one election jurisdiction to another, for instance from St. Louis City to St. Louis County, that voter’s ballot will be discarded—even in elections for nationwide or statewide offices.

5. Furthermore, when a voter moves within an election jurisdiction but no registration update occurs, that voter must cast a provisional ballot. This itself places a burden the voter, and further harms them because part of their ballot may not be counted if it is not cast in the polling place that serves the voter’s then-current address. Accordingly, DOR’s accurate transmittal of address changes is pivotal to the ability of Missouri voters to cast a ballot and have it counted.

6. Because DOR does not provide the voter-registration services required by the NVRA, Missouri citizens cannot rely on the State and local governments to protect their fundamental right to vote. This is particularly true for online transactions, where Missouri citizens receive only the information that appears on their computer or phone screens. When DOR makes no mention of voter registration services on that interface, it leaves Missouri citizens without the opportunity to participate in their democracy. Although Plaintiffs and other nonprofit organizations have tried to fill the gap, in doing so they expend their limited resources to ensure voters are properly and timely registered. Defendants’ violations require these organizations to divert resources away from their other activities, which include voter education and civic engagement efforts.

End note:

1. In this complaint, “they” and “their” are used rather than “he” or “she” to remain gender neutral.