The Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance has settled a 2012 lawsuit with voting rights organizations by agreeing to distribute voter registration forms to people applying for public assistance, to help people complete the forms and to provide oversight to ensure that public assistance workers abide by the requirements of a federal voting rights law. The Department of Transitional Assistance will also pay $675,000 in attorneys’ fees to the voting rights organizations. “We hope that this will make a huge improvement in the voting and registration opportunities for low-income Massachusetts citizens,” said Catherine Flanagan, senior election counsel for the Washington D.C.-based Project Vote and one of the lawyers trying the case. “The administration is pleased this matter was settled appropriately,” said Elizabeth Guyton, press secretary for Gov. Charlie Baker.
The lawsuit is still pending against Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin and Director of the Office of Medicaid Daniel Tsai. (The suit was originally brought against Sudders’ and Tsai’s predecessors in the administration of former Gov. Deval Patrick.)
In 2012, the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and New England United for Justice, both of which run voter registration drives for low-income people, sued the state, represented by lawyers from several voting rights organizations and the law firm Ropes & Gray.
The voting rights groups argued that the state was violating the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law passed in 1993 that requires state public assistance offices to ask a client if they want to register to vote each time a person applies or renews an application for benefits, such as food stamps or Medicaid, or changes their address.