The Missouri Department of Social Services has settled a lawsuit accusing it of violating a federal law requiring it to help its clients register to vote.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, filed the lawsuit in April 2008. A federal judge in Kansas City in July issued a preliminary injunction ordering the social services agency to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the “motor-voter” law.
The settlement was filed Thursday.
Under the agreement, the department must track the number of people visiting its county offices monthly and how many register to vote. It also must designate local and state voter registration coordinators.Plaintiffs in the case released this statement:
"Over 100,000 low-income Missouri citizens already have registered to vote at public assistance offices in the few short months since the Court ordered Missouri DSS to follow the law. Today's settlement confirms that DSS now will be a partner in ensuring the voting rights of all Missouri citizens, fulfilling a key goal of the NVRA," said Brenda Wright, director of the Democracy Program at Demos and counsel for plaintiffs.
"Other states across the country that have ignored the voting rights of low-income citizens for far too long should take note of Missouri's example and bring their practices into compliance with the law."
"This case demonstrates the potential difference that the NVRA can make in enfranchising our poorest citizens," stated Jon Greenbaum, legal director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel for plaintiffs.
"If every state registered its public assistance clients at the rate Missouri has since last year's court order, several million citizens would be registered through public assistance agencies every year instead of the few hundred thousand that are now being registered. We hope that DSS will relate its experiences to its counterparts in the other states."
The court ruling that led to today's settlement cited "substantial evidence" of voting rights violations, including:
- State documents confirming that over one million Food Stamps applicants could not have been offered voter registration from 2003-2008 because DSS did not order enough of the forms it is required to give each client;
- Field surveys by plaintiffs of agency offices showing that offices were not offering voter registration;
- E-mails from a DSS employee acknowledging that half the counties in a 21-county survey were not routinely providing voter registration to DSS clients;
- E-mails from one county DSS office showing that voter registration applications completed by clients had been permitted to pile up for an entire year without being turned in to the local election authority for processing.