ATLANTA (CN) – The NAACP says Georgia disenfranchises poor and minority citizens by failing to provide voter registration when they apply for public assistance, as required by the National Voter Registration Act. Such voter registrations have declined in Georgia by more than 88 percent since the mid 1990s, the NAACP says.
The Georgia Conference of the NAACP and a coalition of 30 other groups sued Georgia’s secretary of state and commissioner of its Department of Human Services to redress the “defendants’ past and ongoing violations of their obligations under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.”
The Georgia Supreme Court in March upheld the state’s Voter ID law, which requires voters to have state-approved photo ID to vote.
The NAACP says that Georgia’s “widespread ongoing noncompliance with the requirements of Section 7 [of the NVRA] with regard to the administration of public assistance programs” has denied low-income residents the opportunity to register to vote.
Section 7 of the NVRA requires that all public assistance offices distribute a voter registration application and a “voter preference form,” which explains the voter registration process, each time a resident applies for benefits, recertifies, or fills out a change of address form. It also requires that the offices provide for assistance, if necessary, in completing a voter application form.
“Section 7 of the NVRA reflects Congress’s objective to ensure that registration ‘will be convenient and readily available [for] the poor and persons with disabilities who do not have driver’s licenses and will not come into contact with the other principal place to register under this Act [motor vehicle agencies],” the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)
The NAACP says Georgia fails to do this.
“As a result of these ongoing violations, thousands of Georgia’s low-income citizens who apply for and/or receive public assistance, including members of the Georgia NAACP and members of the [co-plaintiff] Peoples’ Agenda’s constituent organizations, have not been and are not being offered the opportunity to register to vote or to change their voter address upon moving to a new residence,” the complaint states.
The number of Georgians registering to vote at public assistance offices has declined precipitously since the mid 1990s.
The complaint states: “Georgia’s own report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (‘EAC’) reveals that Georgia public assistance offices received only 21,762 voter registration applications in 2007-2008. This represents a 79 percent decline since 1995-1996, when Georgia reported 103,942 registrations from public assistance offices.
“By contrast, following recent reforms in Ohio and Missouri to comply with the NVRA, public assistance agencies in those states have dramatically increased voter registration to an average of more than 15,000 per month in Ohio and more than 10,000 per month in Missouri.”
In 2010, the number of registrations dropped to 4,430. Several counties in Georgia failed to register a single voter through public assistance offices for at least one out of the past seven years, the NAACP says.
The plaintiffs say Georgia is simply disregarding the Voting Rights Act.
Under Georgia Department of Human Services policy, a client who declined to register to vote during a previous application for benefits is not offered registration a second time, despite the NVRA requirement that voter registration be offered with every application.
Moreover, Georgia law limits voter registration offers to in-person applicants, although the NVRA provides that registration applications must be distributed with all applications for public assistance, recertifications and changes of address.
The coalition says the Georgia secretary of state has acknowledged that “DHS did not have consistent policies for the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], Medicaid and Food Stamp programs” at its public assistance offices.
As a result, the Georgia NAACP and the Peoples’ Agenda say they “have expended and continue to expend substantial time and resources in an effort to make voter registration available to these low-income citizens.”
They want Georgia ordered to comply with the Voting Rights Act, ordered to train it workers in compliance, and they want it monitored.
Lead counsel is M. Laughlin McDonald with the ACLU.