Since 1965, the Lawyers’ Committee has been at the forefront of the legal struggle to advance and protect the right to vote and to ensure that the right is afforded equally to all. Through coordinated and integrated programs of litigation, voter protection, advocacy, and education, the Voting Rights Project has had a tremendous positive impact on communities of color, low-income communities, youth, people with disabilities, and other traditionally disenfranchised populations.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Voting Rights Project uses a diversity of tools to litigate cases on behalf of traditionally disenfranchised voters. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) prohibits voting practices that have the purpose or result of discriminating against members of a racial or minority language group. Section 5 of the VRA, which was rendered nearly inoperable by Shelby County v. Holder, required select jurisdictions to get federal pre-approval for voting changes before putting them into effect. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is another powerful tool, as are Article 1 and the 14th and 15th Amendments in the U.S. Constitution, state laws and constitutions and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Voter Registration Issues
- TN Voter Reg Law – TN NAACP v. Hargett – 3:19-cv-00365
- Middle District of Tennessee
- Filed 5/2/19
- Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP v. Hargett is a challenge to Tennessee’s new Third-Party Voter Registration Law, which places undue restrictions on groups who help people register to vote in Tennessee. Tennessee ranks 45th in the country in voter registration rate, with low-income and communities of color having even lower rates, so third-party voter registration is crucial to strengthening democracy in the state.
- AZ NVRA – LWV AZ v. Reagan – 2:18-cv-02620
- District of Arizona
- Filed 8/18/18
- League of Women Voters of Arizona v. Reagan is a suit that aims to address the State of Arizona’s failures to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. Plaintiffs cite the fact that voter registrations from public assistance offices in Arizona have fallen while applications for public assistance have increased as evidence for the state’s failure to comply with the NVRA. The litigation is ongoing.
- TX Purge Case – MOVE v. Whitley – 5:19-cv-000743 and 3:19-cv-00041
- Southern District of Texas, then Western District of Texas
- Filed 2/4/19 SDTX
- MOVE v. Whitley was a challenge to the attempted voter purge of naturalized citizens in Texas, alleging that the purge violated the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs and the state of Texas settled, with the state rescinding its purge advisory and agreeing to a more limited database maintenance process.
- NY Inactive Voters – CCNY v. Brehm – 1:17-06770
- Southern District of New York
- Filed 09/06/17
- Common Cause New York v. Brehm is a suit to restore the voting rights of millions of New Yorkers ahead of the 2018 election, alleging that certain eligible but “inactive” voters are improperly removed from poll books throughout New York State in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and disproportionately impacting voters of color. The litigation is ongoing.
Barriers to Voting
- GA Voting Machines – Curling v. Raffensperger – 1:17-cv-02989
- Northern District of Georgia
- Filed 8/8/17
- Curling v. Raffensperger asks the court to force the state of Georgia to address the problems with its outdated voting machines, which were prone to malfunction in the 2018 midterms and resulted in an extreme undervote in the ballots cast using these machines. We argue that to ensure safe and secure elections, the state of Georgia should change from electronic voting machines to a paper balloting system.
- MS Absentee Ballots – O’Neil v. Hosemann – 3:18-cv-00815
- Southern District of Mississippi
- Filed 11/21/18
- O’Neil v. Hosemann is a challenge to Mississippi’s unique combination of requiring notarization of both the absentee ballot application and the ballot itself, together with a deadline of receipt of the ballot the day before election day, alleging that this combination places undue burdens on the constitutional right to vote. The court denied relief on November 27, 2019 on grounds that it was too close to the election to order relief. The case is still ongoing.
- PA Absentee Ballots – Jones v. Torres
- Pennsylvania State Court
- Filed 11/13/18
- Jones v. Torres is a challenge to Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot deadline – the earliest in the country – asking the court to change the deadline for returning absentee ballots because it is a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s guarantees of “free and equal” elections and equal protection under the law. Argument was heard in June and the case is ongoing.
Districting and Gerrymandering
- Louisiana Supreme Court Vote Dilution – LA State Conf. of the NAACP v. LA – 3:19-cv-00479
- Middle District of Louisiana
- Filed 7/23/19
- Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP v. State of Louisiana alleges that Louisiana’s electoral map for electing State Supreme Court justices denies black voters an equal opportunity to elect justices of their choice. Louisiana’s population is 32% African American, but just one of the state’s seven Supreme Court districts is majority-black in population.The suit, which highlights that the state’s Supreme Court districts have not been redrawn since 1999, argues that a second majority-black district must be drawn to address the harm to black voters.
- MS D22 Redistricting – Thomas v. Bryant – 3:18-cv-00441
- Southern District of Mississippi
- Filed 7/9/18
- Thomas v. Bryant is a challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 alleging that the boundary lines of Mississippi’s state Senate District 22 dilutes African-American voting strength. On February 13, declared that the configuration of Dist. 22 violates Section 2, and said that the legislature should have the first opportunity to draw a new district that complies with the Voting Rights Act. On March 26, the Legislature enacted a remedial plan, under which District 22 is 58% in black voting age population and District 13 remains 61% percent in black voting age population. The 5th Circuit heard the case on June 11th.
- Alabama Courts Case – Alabama State Conference of the NAACP v. State of Alabama – 2:16-cv-00731
- Middle District of Alabama
- Filed 9/7/16
- Alabama State Conference of the NAACP v. State of Alabama is a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) challenging Alabama’s at-large method of electing justices and judges of the Alabama Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Court of Civil Appeals. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss; the District Court denied the motion. The case was tried in November 2018 and the parties are awaiting a decision.
Suits against the Federal Government
- FOIA Case re: PACEI – LC v. DHS and DOJ – 1:18-cv-00167
- District Court for the District of Columbia
- Filed 1/26/18
- Lawyers’ Committee v. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice is a case brought under the Freedom of Information Act seeking compliance with requests made for documents relating to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
- Census Cases – City of San Jose v Ross – 3:18-cv-02279
- Related to Ca v. DOC, NY Case, LUPE v Ross, Kravitz
- Northern District of California
- Filed 4/17/18
- City of San Jose v. Ross is the Lawyer’s Committee’s case against the Department of Commerce that aimed to prevent the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The collaborative litigation effort led to the Supreme Court ruling that the Department of Commerce’s reasons for including the question were pretextual and violated the Administrative Procedures Act, and Commerce has begun to print the census without the question.
- AL Census APA – Brooks v. Dept. of Commerce – 2:18-cv-00772
- Northern District of Alabama
- Filed 5/21/18
- Brooks v. Department of Commerce is a suit alleging that the Census Bureau’s Residence Rule will lead to under-appropriation of funds and representation for the State of Alabama. The Lawyers’ Committee represents the City of San Jose and King County, Washington, as defendant-intervenors, who argue that undocumented residents and foreign residents must be counted in the Census, as required under the Constitution. The case is ongoing.
The national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition works year-round to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to vote and have that vote count. Made up of more than 100 local, state and national partners, Election Protection uses a wide range of tools and activities to protect, advance and defend the right to vote.
Election Protection provides Americans from coast to coast with comprehensive information and assistance at all stages of voting – from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting a vote at the polls, to overcoming obstacles to their participation. Election Protection helps voters make sure their vote is counted through a number of resources, including:
- A suite of voter helplines: 866-OUR-VOTE (administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law), 888-Ve-Y-Vota (administered by the NALEO Educational Fund), 844-Yalla-US (Arabic/English) – administered by the Arab American Institute, and 888-API-VOTE administered by APIAVote & Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC);
- Voter protection field programs across the country (both legal – managed by the Lawyers’ Committee, and grassroots – managed by Common Cause); and
- Digital outreach tools including org, @866ourVote, and facebook.com/866OurVote.
Throughout the election cycle, our volunteers provide voter information, document problems they encounter when voting and work with partners and volunteers on the ground to identify and remove barriers to voting. Election Protection focuses on the voter – not on the political horse race – and provides guidance, information and help to any American, regardless of his or her voting choices.
Check out the Election Protection website –Here
The National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR), organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the civil rights community, conducted twenty-five hearings across the country to collect testimony about voting discrimination and election administration challenges and successes. Hundreds of voters, advocates and expert witnesses shared personal experiences and research highlighting both the obstacles to full access to the ballot as well as opportunities for reform.
In the next few months, the NCVR will be issuing two national reports (one on voting discrimination and the other on election administration); voting snapshots for all fifty states; highlights from each of the twenty five NCVR hearings; and national and state maps with voting data.
Check out the full site here!
Publications and Resources
Selected Amicus Briefs
- Amicus briefs related to 2017-2018 Supreme Court decisions
- Virginia: Wittman v. Personhuballah (redistricting; ongoing)
- Alabama: Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama(redistricting; ongoing)
- Minnesota: Minnesota Majority v. Mansky (deceptive practices; decided 2010)
- North Carolina: Bartlett v. Strickland (redistricting; decided 2009)
- Indiana: Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (voter ID; decided 2008)
- Wisconsin: Van Hollen v. Government Accountability Board (voter purges; decided 2008)
Publications & Resources