On June 6, 2011, the Lawyers’ Committee, together with pro bono counsel Dechert LLP and other litigation partners, filed suit in federal court to remedy the failure of Georgia state officials to provide voter registration services at state public assistance offices, as required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). This is the fifth such lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee and its partners to address widespread violations of the NVRA at state public assistance offices. Suits against Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and New Mexico have been resolved through settlements
In the Georgia lawsuit, the Lawyers’ Committee represents the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, which is a coalition of more than 30 civil rights and labor groups in Georgia. Our litigation partners include Project Vote, Dēmos, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP. Defendants are the Georgia Secretary of State and the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services.
The NVRA, most commonly known for its “motor voter” component, requires that states offer voter registration at public assistance offices, as well as at motor vehicle offices. In enacting the NVRA, Congress expressly recognized that the right to vote “is a fundamental right,” and took note of the disproportionate harm to voter participation by racial minorities caused by discriminatory and unfair registration laws and procedures. The NVRA’s public assistance component is particularly important because low-income citizens are less likely to own a car and thus are among the least likely to register to vote at motor vehicle offices.
The NVRA requires that all public assistance offices in Georgia distribute a voter registration application each time a client applies for benefits, recertifies, or fills out a change of address form. The evidence shows that Georgia has been largely ignoring this mandate for many years. For example, when Georgia first began to implement the NVRA in the mid-1990s, about 50,000 persons a year were registering to vote at public assistance offices, but in 2010 the number of registrations had dropped to a mere 4,430. Recent surveys of public assistance offices and clients confirmed that Georgia is not complying with the NVRA.
“Georgia public officials must take seriously their legal responsibility to provide voter registration services to the State’s public assistance clients,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project. “Congress required that public assistance offices serve as voter registration agencies to ensure that low income persons, who historically have been disenfranchised, are given a periodic opportunity to register to vote or update their existing voter registration.”
The lawsuit requests an injunction requiring defendants to take all necessary action to bring the State into compliance with the NVRA. This should include proper procedures for distributing voter registration applications, training of public assistance office personnel as to their voter registration responsibilities, and measures to monitor ongoing compliance.
Click here to read the original Complaint.
On January 30, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr. denied, in part, Defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In an important victory for Plaintiffs, Judge Pannell ruled that Section 7 of the NVRA applies to all forms of public assistance transactions by clients—whether in-person at an agency office or through remote means (e.g., by telephone, internet or mail). He found that, by restricting voter registration opportunities to in-person public assistance transactions only, Georgia was violating the NVRA.
On April 17, 2012, the parties entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the litigation. The agreement details specific procedures that Georgia must follow for distributing voter registration applications to public assistance clients during in-person and remote transactions. Georgia must also provide regular training on voter registration for agency employees, gather and analyze data regarding voter registration at public assistance agencies, and implement various measures to monitor compliance at local offices. The agreement was approved by Judge Pannell on April 26, 2012, and will remain in effect until September 30, 2015.
On April 26, 2012, the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia approved a comprehensive settlement agreement in Georgia NAACP v. Kemp resolving litigation over Georgia’s failure to comply with Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The case was filed on June 6, 2011 by the Lawyers’ Committee, pro bono counsel Dechert LLP and other litigation partners to remedy the failure of Georgia state officials to provide voter registration services at state public assistance offices, as required by Section 7 of the NVRA. The case is one of six such lawsuits filed by the Lawyers’ Committee and its partners to address widespread violations of the NVRA at state public assistance offices. Suits against Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and New Mexico have been resolved through settlements, and a suit is pending against Massachusetts.
Lawyers’ Committee Voting Rights Project Co-Director Robert Kengle, Senior Counsel Mark Posner and Associate Counsel Meredith Horton, along with Lawyers’ Committee Board Members Neil Steiner and Brenda Wright, are among the counsel representing the Plaintiffs.
Click here for the April 17, 2012 Settlement Agreement.
Click here to read the January 30, 2012 District Court Order on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.