It may seem unthinkable now, but as late as the 1980s, Americans in many states had only one option if they wanted to register to vote: Show up in person at a central registrar’s office, which might be open only during restricted business hours and located far from the voter’s home. Even in places where voter registration applications could be distributed outside the registrar’s office, strict limits often applied — such as in Indianapolis where groups like the League of Women Voters were allowed to pick up only 25 voter registration applications at a time. Overly complicated and restrictive procedures meant that fewer and fewer eligible voters were registering — and without registering, they couldn’t vote. Voting rights advocates knew that America must fiercely protect the freedom to vote for all citizens, regardless of race or privilege. So, they began a multi-year campaign to make voter registration more accessible. Their efforts paid off in 1992 when Congress first passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), only to see President George H.W. Bush veto the bill. Not to be discouraged, the movement kept fighting, and 20 years ago this week, Congress passed the NVRA and President Clinton signed it into law.
Pennsylvania, a presidential battleground, is joining at least 15 other states that have agreed to make it easier for welfare recipients to register to vote in agency offices. The Keystone State agreed yesterday to settle a lawsuit over the so-called Motor Voter law, a 19-year-old statute that says public-assistance agencies must offer clients the chance to sign up to vote. Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Virginia also have changed their ways after either being sued or told by advocacy groups how they could improve compliance. The changes stem from pressure by activists whose drive may aid Democrats in November. About 1.5 million people have registered since 2004 because of the drive, according to New York-based Demos, a nonprofit group involved in the Pennsylvania case. The state was sued as the presidential campaigns scrounge for every vote, making ballot access a key front as Democrats challenge restrictive steps taken by Republican-led states.
Massachusetts: State mails welfare recipients voter registration form, sparking political row | The Boston Globe
Senator Scott Brown criticized the state’s welfare department Wednesday for sending voter registration forms to 478,000 people on public assistance, contending that the mass mailing was a ploy to boost the ranks of Democratic voters and help rival Elizabeth Warren’s election bid. The Democrat’s campaign denounced the Republican senator’s criticism as “bizarre,’’ pointing out that the legal challenge that triggered the mailing is part of an ongoing national effort that began years ago and that the law that is being enforced has long received bipartisan support. The state’s Department of Transitional Assistance sent registration forms last month, along with prepaid return envelopes, as part of an interim settlement over a lawsuit alleging that the department has consistently failed to comply with federal voter registration law. The suit was filed in May by a pair of voting rights groups that were represented by Demos, an advocacy and public policy organization from New York that has brought similar actions in more than a half-dozen states.
Voting Blogs: Voting Rights Groups Move to Hold Alabama Accountable to Federal Voter Registration Law | Project Vote
Citing clear evidence that Alabama public assistance agencies are violating their federally-mandated responsibilities to offer tens of thousands of public assistance clients opportunities to register to vote, today attorneys from Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a pre-litigation notice letter to the Alabama Secretary of State on behalf of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP. The letter details violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and demands that the Secretary act immediately to bring the state into full compliance with the law or face litigation. The groups forwarded copies of the letter to the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) and Medicaid Agency.
Massachusetts: Citizen and Community Groups Sue Commonwealth for Failing to Provide Voter Registration Opportunities | ProjectVote
Citing clear evidence that the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) have violated their federally-mandated responsibilities to offer tens of thousands of public assistance clients opportunities to register to vote, a Massachusetts citizen and two community groups filed suit today for violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Congress passed the NVRA to boost democratic participation by ensuring that all eligible citizens have ample opportunities to register to vote. Section 7 of the law requires state agencies that provide public assistance, including those that administer federal assistance programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, TANF, and WIC, to assist their applicants and clients in registering to vote.