U.S. District Court Orders Relief for NVRA Violations in Missouri

U.S. District Court Orders Relief for NVRA Violations in Missouri

September 21, 2018
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ORDER

Before the Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (Doc. #31). The Court, being duly advised of the premises, grants in part and denies in part said motion.

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BACKGROUND

On April 17, 2018, Plaintiffs League of Women Voters of Missouri, St. Louis A. Philip Randolph Institute, Greater Kansas City A. Philip Randolph Institute (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed claims against Defendants John R. Ashcroft, in his official capacity as Missouri Secretary of State, and Joel W. Walters, in his official capacity as Director of the Missouri Department of Revenue (“Defendants”), alleging violation of the National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. §20501, et seq. (“NVRA”). Plaintiffs are organizations engaged in voter registration activities in Missouri. Ashcroft, as Missouri Secretary of State, is the designated chief state election official for purposes of the NVRA. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 115.136. Walters, as the Missouri Director of the Department of Revenue, oversees the Driver License Bureau.

The Driver License Bureau, a division of the Department of Revenue (hereinafter, “the Department”), administers driver’s licenses and nondriver’s identification cards1 in Missouri pursuant to state law. To obtain a Missouri driver’s license, an applicant must be a Missouri resident, and provide documentary verification of Missouri residency. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 302.171. Once the license application is approved, this verified residential address is printed on the physical license card itself, and is also encoded on the back of the license card. 12 C.S.R. 10-24.430. 

The Department also requires a license holder to provide, in addition to a residential address, a mailing address. The mailing address does not appear on the license card itself. Rather, the license holder’s mailing address is used for the Department to communicate with the license holder. The license holder’s residential address and mailing address, as well as other identifying information associated with the license holder, are separately entered and stored by the Department in the Missouri Driver’s License Information Database (“MODL”).

Missouri license holders may change their address information. The appropriate procedure for changing address information varies based on whether the license holder wishes to change the residential address or the mailing address associated with his or her license.

Under the Department’s current procedure, license holders can make changes to their residential addresses in person only. A change of residential address requires documentary verification. If a license holder makes a change to their residential address, they may, but are not required to, pay a fee for the Department to print a new license card reflecting the updated residential address. If a license holder elects to avoid this fee, a change in residential address will be changed in MODL only. Any change to a license holder’s residential address need not impact the mailing address associated with the license and stored in MODL.

Likewise, a change in mailing address need not impact the residential address associated with a license and stored in MODL. License holders may also change the mailing address through which the Department communicates license-related information. A change of mailing address does not require documentary verification.

Under the scenarios described above, in which a license holder goes into a license office, the Department offers voter registration services in connection with a change of residential address and/or change of mailing address.

By contrast, the Department’s current procedures allow license holders to change the mailing address associated with their licenses, in person, online, or by mail. If a license holder updates their mailing address in person at a license office, the Department offers them voter registration services in connection with that mailing address change. However, if a license holder updates their mailing address online or by mail, the Department does not offer voter registration services.

Plaintiffs assert that Missouri’s current processes for change-of-mailing-address-online and change-of-mailing-address-by-mail violate Section 5(d) of the NVRA because Defendants do not provide voter registration services in connection with these change-of-mailing-address transactions (“Subject Transactions”). Plaintiffs seek entry of a preliminary injunction against this alleged violation of the NVRA before the November 6, 2018 federal election. Defendants dispute the Department’s current processes for the Subject Transactions violate the NVRA.

On August 8, 2018, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiffs’ motion. Having considered the record and the parties’ arguments during the hearing, the Court finds Plaintiffs have demonstrated a right to preliminary injunctive relief.

Footnotes

  1. A nondriver’s license is a state-issued ID card. It contains the same information included on a driver’s license, but does not confer driving privileges. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 302.181. For purposes of this order, the Court refers to driver’s licenses to categorically include both driver’s and nondriver’s licenses.

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