In May 2012, the Lawyers’ Committee, together with pro bono counsel Ropes & Gray LLP and other litigation partners (the Boston Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Demos, and Project Vote), filed suit in federal court to remedy the failure of Massachusetts state officials to provide voter registration services at state public assistance offices, as required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Plaintiffs are Bethzaida Delgado, the NAACP New England Area Conference, and New England United for Justice.
This is the sixth such lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee and its partners to address widespread violations of the NVRA at state public assistance offices. The NVRA requires that public assistance offices in Massachusetts and other states distribute a voter registration application each time a client applies for benefits, recertifies, or fills out a change of address form, unless the client declines an application in writing.
As set forth in the federal Complaint, Plaintiffs’ pre-lawsuit investigation showed that Massachusetts public assistance offices have been failing to fulfill their voter registration responsibilities for many years. For example, data reported by the state to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission showed that only about 2,000 individuals submitted voter registration applications to public assistance offices in 2009 and 2010, which represented a 93% decrease from the number received in 1999-2000. Recent surveys of public assistance offices and clients confirmed that Massachusetts public assistance offices were not complying with the NVRA. This lack of compliance with the NVRA has contributed to a significant income-based voter registration gap in the Commonwealth – in 2010, only 58% of eligible low-income citizens were registered to vote, compared with 77% of the Commonwealth’s affluent citizens.
In July 2012, the parties entered into an interim settlement pursuant to which the Commonwealth was required to implement several remedial measures to ensure that public assistance clients were offered the opportunity to register to vote prior to the 2012 presidential election.
Litigation in this case resumed. On March 14, 2014, the District Court denied the Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, in which Defendants claimed that Plaintiffs’ pre-suit notice letter did not provide adequate notice of the Commonwealth’s NVRA violations. The Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to amend the Complaint to add as a Defendant the Director of the Office of Medicaid (MassHealth), and to add factual allegations regarding MassHealth’s NVRA violations.
The case ended in two settlements: a March 18, 2015 settlement with the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps), and a June 17, 2015 settlement with the remaining defendants Secretary of the Commonwealth (SOC), MassHealth, and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).