Federal Appeals Court Ruling Finding NM Officials in Violation of National Voter Registration Act

Federal Appeals Court Ruling Finding NM Officials in Violation of National Voter Registration Act

February 22, 2012

This unanimous panel decision was written by Chief Judge Briscoe and was joined by Judges Gorsuch and Matheson.  The U.S. Department of Justice filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiff Allers in the HSD appeal.  The case captions are Valdez v. Squier, No. 11-2063 (10th Cir. Feb. 21, 2012) for the HSD appeal, and Valdez v. Duran, No. 11-2064 (10th Cir. Feb. 21, 2012), for the Secretary of State’s appeal.  The Tenth Circuit’s territorial jurisdiction includes Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, in addition to New Mexico. 

This ruling finds that the State of New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) violated Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) by improperly withholding voter registration applications from certain public assistance clients.  The decision came in a federal lawsuit brought against state officials by a coalition voting rights groups and attorneys, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Project Vote, and Dēmos; the Albuquerque law firm of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan, and the law firm of DLA Piper, on behalf of Albuquerque resident Shawna Allers.

This major development concerns the HSD policy of providing a voter registration application to a public assistance client only if the client specifically requests an application.  Section 7 requires New Mexico and most other states to offer voter registration to public assistance clients when they apply for benefits, periodically recertify their benefits eligibility, or submit a change of address for receipt of benefits.  Along with HSD officials, the New Mexico Secretary of State shares responsibility for ensuring that State agencies comply with the NVRA. 

This is an affirmation of a December 2010 judgment of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, holding that Section 7 public assistance agencies must provide a voter registration application to each client engaged in a covered transaction (that is, a benefits application, recertification or change of address), unless the client declines in writing, and that HSD’s policy violated the express language of the statute.