Missouri is violating federal law because it does not offer all residents the option to register to vote at the state’s motor vehicle agency or automatically update voter registration information when people notify the state that they have moved, according to a lawsuit civil rights groups filed against the state Tuesday.
Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) and Joel Walters, the director of the Department of Revenue, which is responsible for issuing driver’s licenses, have violated the National Voter Registration Act, alleges the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
The 1993 law requires states to offer people the opportunity to register to vote when they interact with the motor vehicle agency and other state agencies. If someone wants to register to vote at the motor vehicle agency, the information provided on a driver’s license can also be used as a voter registration application for federal elections. The law also says states should update someone’s voter registration if they change their address at the motor vehicle agency, unless the person explicitly says not to.
But lawyers for the ACLU of Missouri, Demos and The Advancement Project say Missouri doesn’t comply with those requirements in several ways.
First, they say Missouri election officials aren’t automatically updating the voter information of people who change their address with the state. Second, they say the state requires military personnel to fill out a separate form to register to vote when they want to get or renew a driver’s license. Third, they allege the state is refusing to offer voter registration opportunities to people who can’t prove they are citizens during a licensing transaction.
The plaintiffs say the state’s process could block the hundreds of thousands of people who move within Missouri each year from casting a valid ballot.
The suit wasn’t filed on behalf of particular voters, but instead on behalf of the Missouri chapters of two groups that dedicate considerable resources to voter registration: the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Both organizations said in the court filing Tuesday that the DMV’s current processes prevented many people they interacted with from getting registered to vote.
“A large part of the reason our organization focuses so heavily on voter registration is to prevent these voters from being turned away at the polls,” Patricia A. Jones, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s Greater Kansas City Chapter, said in a statement. “Each year we have to educate voters on the need to update their registration addresses and assist voters in making sure that their registration information is current.”
Demos and The Advancement Project sent letters to Ashcroft and Walters last year, in which lawyers for the groups said the men were violating NVRA and offered to work together on a remedy.
Maura Browning, a spokeswoman for Ashcroft, said her office had received the lawsuit on Tuesday and hadn’t yet had a chance to review it.