Missouri Voting Rights Advocates Achieve Legal Victory Expanding Statewide Access to Voter Registration
ST LOUIS, MO—Today, Missouri voting rights advocates celebrated a significant victory making it easier for state residents to exercise their fundamental right to vote. The victory results from settlement of a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City Chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). The lawsuit alleges Missouri violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a federal law designed to aid voter registration. As part of the settlement agreement, the state of Missouri must provide voter registration services to residents who update their driver’s license or state ID address online with state’s Department of Revenue (DOR). The settlement also streamlines existing voter registration services offered in-person at state Motor Vehicle offices.
“The changes implemented by today’s settlement will help create a more inclusive democracy and better guarantee that people of color, active duty military, the elderly and low-income residents are able to exercise their right to vote,” said Naila Awan, Senior Counsel at Dēmos. “Improving and expanding the voter registration services Missourians receive when they interact with the state’s motor vehicle agency is critical in maintaining the accuracy of state voting rolls, reducing confusion at the polls, and ensuring every vote counts.”
In April 2018, the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City Chapters of APRI — represented by a team of lawyers from Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Missouri, Advancement Project National Office, and Covington & Burling LLP — sued Missouri Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft. The suit alleged that the Department of Revenue failed to provide Missouri residents with the voter registration services required by NVRA. In September 2018, a federal court ordered Missouri to make interim changes in order to improve DOR’s voter registration processes ahead of midterm elections. Today’s agreement concludes the legal dispute between the parties.
Under the agreement, the state of Missouri will be required to implement various measures improving and streamlining voter registration services. For the first time, Missouri will provide registration services to residents who visit the Department of Revenue’s online change-of-address site. In the months ahead, customers who use the agency’s online change-of-address system to update the address associated with their license or identification card will be automatically redirected to the Secretary of State’s online voter registration system. Information entered on the Department of Revenue’s webpage will be pre-populated on the Secretary of State site, allowing residents to more easily register or update their voter registration to reflect their new address. The agreement further provides for improvements to streamline license and identification card transactions conducted in motor vehicles offices.
To ensure the effective implementation of the settlement agreement, the Department of Revenue will also designate a National Voter Registration Act Coordinator, conduct internal audits of the new procedures established under the agreement, and publish data to allow for oversight of the settlement agreement.
The voting rights and public interest organizations involved in the settlement issued the following statements in response:
Evelyn Maddox, President of the League of Women Voters of Missouri: “Each year, one of the major causes of disenfranchisement in the State results from when Missouri voters appear at the polls and find out that they are not registered at their current address. These improvements to DOR’s voter registration practices will help reduce the number of qualified voters being shut out of the political process.”
Patricia A. Jones, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s Greater Kansas City Chapter: “Problems with voter registration are one of the leading causes of disenfranchisement. That’s why the law requires the state to facilitate voter registration services. We are pleased the state has agreed to fixes to its system to help facilitate voter registration, and reduce some of the significant burdens on grassroots groups like ours to ensure that people are properly registered.”
Keith Robinson, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s St. Louis Chapter: “People of color and low-income individuals are less likely to own homes or have dependable transportation, which results in more interaction with DOR. The fixes the state agreed to undergo will be critical to ensure that Missouri does not continue to shut the doors to our democracy on individuals whose voices are already underrepresented and too often unheard.”
Denise Lieberman, Director of Power & Democracy for Advancement Project National Office: “The right to vote is the core of our nation’s democracy. This settlement will help ensure that the voices of voters can be heard.”
Davin Rosborough, Staff Attorney: ACLU Voting Rights Project: “Today’s settlement will improve access to the ballot for Missourians by providing more opportunities and making it far easier to register to vote.”
Anthony Rothert, Legal Director, ACLU of Missouri: With this agreement, Missouri will reduce barriers to the fundamental right to vote. We hope this agreement represents a shift in our state government’s priorities, so they focus on making it easier to vote, not harder.”
Click here to view the settlement agreement.