Missouri Accused of Violating Federal Voter-Registration Laws

(CN) – The League of Women Voters of Missouri sued the state Tuesday, claiming it did not follow federal voting-rights law requiring it to update the voter database with information from motor-vehicle records, which the group says impacts half a million residents every year.

The National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, requires states to offer residents the opportunity to register to vote whenever someone applies for a new or renewed driver’s license or state ID. It also requires the state to update the individual’s voter registration record whenever a voter updates their address information with the state motor vehicle agency.

But the League of Women Voters of Missouri, joined by the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City branches of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, claims the state has failed to comply with the federal law.

The voting advocacy groups sued Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft and Joel Walters, director of the Missouri Department of Revenue, on Tuesday in Jefferson City federal court. They are represented by Anthony Rothert with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

“The Missouri Secretary of State and the director of the state motor vehicle agency, the Department of Revenue, 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,” the complaint states.

The League estimates that the failure to enter changes of address into the voter registration database means that 200,000 people annually will not get their vote counted at all because they moved from one county to another. Another 380,000 will have to cast provisional ballots because they moved within a county to a new address, according to the complaint.

Further, Missouri allegedly does not offer voter-registration services as required by law. This is especially true for people who go online to change their address with the state or apply to renew their license.

“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,” the lawsuit states.

In a statement, plaintiffs’ attorney Rothert said, “Missouri has knowingly and deliberately violated its duty to protect the people’s fundamental right to vote. We should be doing everything we can to encourage, rather than hinder, participation in our democracy.”

Noting that low-income voters tend to move more frequently, Keith Robinson, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s St. Louis Chapter, said in a statement, “DOR’s failure to update voter registration information has serious consequences for Missouri voters who are already marginalized and whose needs often go unmet. Bringing DOR into compliance with federal law is essential to creating a more responsive democracy.”

A Missouri Department of Revenue spokeswoman declined to comment on pending litigation.

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