A federal judge in the Western District of Missouri issued an order today requiring the State of Missouri to take immediate steps to prevent Missourians from being denied their right to vote in this November’s election as a result of the state’s failure to comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
In today’s ruling, Judge Brian Wimes clearly recognized the state’s failing and the harm it created. The judge ordered that the online and mail change-of-address forms used by the state motor vehicle agency, the Department of Revenue (DOR), be updated to provide voter registration information, and that the state send every voter who has used these forms since August 1, 2017 a mailing that includes a voter registration form and information about the appropriate polling location. These mailings must continue to be sent to every voter who uses the mail and online change-of-address forms until the court-ordered changes to those forms are completed.
“The state of Missouri has been failing to provide address update services required by the NVRA. This disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income individuals, who tend to move at higher rates,” said Naila Awan, Counsel at Demos. “Today’s ruling sides with democracy and promotes a more robust and inclusive democracy.”
“By requiring the State to immediately contact individuals who were not provided the required voter registration services when updating their address, today’s ruling will help ensure that fewer Missouri voters will be disenfranchised this November as a result of the state’s failure to comply with the NVRA,” said Davin Rosborough, Staff Attorney in the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
"The court found that Missouri is dodging its legal responsibilities to voters," said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “We should be doing everything we can to encourage, rather than hinder, participation in our democracy.”
The order, a preliminary injunction, provides relief requested in advance of the November 6 federal election by the League of Women Voters of Missouri and the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), represented by a team of lawyers from Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Missouri, Advancement Project, and Covington & Burling LLP.
“Year after year, Missouri voters are denied the right to vote because the voter registration rolls do not reflect their current address. Our own members have been denied voter registration services when trying to change their address online,” said Kathleen Boswell, President of the League of Women Voters of Missouri. “Today’s ruling will ensure that the state agencies know they need to do more to uphold their federal voter registration obligations.”
Under the NVRA, whenever an individual updates the address associated with their license or identification card with the state motor vehicle agency, the state must also update the individual’s voter registration unless they affirmatively request otherwise. Missouri residents have never been provided voter registration services when conducting online or mail change-of-address transactions through DOR. As a consequence, voters who had moved within the state have gone to the polls only to find that they were not on the rolls and cannot cast a ballot that will count.
“The Court recognized the harms of Missouri’s failure to update voters’ registrations when they move,” said Denise Lieberman, Co-Director of the Power and Democracy Program at Advancement Project’s national office and Coordinator of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. “These failures hit hardest communities of color, young voters and low-income voters, make it more difficult to maintain accurate voter rolls, and strip Missourians of their right to vote. Today’s ruling will help ensure that voters who have moved are notified and have an opportunity to update their registrations to enable them to cast a ballot and have it counted in November.”
Missouri law requires a voter’s registration information to reflect their current address. If it does not, and the voter has moved from one election jurisdiction to another, their ballot is not counted.
“People of color and low-income individuals are less likely to own homes or have dependable transportation, which results in more interaction with DOR,” said Keith Robinson, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s St. Louis Chapter. “Today’s ruling will help prevent the Secretary and the Director of DOR from essentially shutting the doors to our democracy on individuals whose voices are already underrepresented and too often ignored.”
“This November, Missouri voters will be provided the opportunity to weigh in on a number of issues that affect their everyday lives and are aimed at protecting our democracy,” said Patricia A. Jones, President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s Greater Kansas City Chapter. “Today’s order will help make sure that the voices of Missouri voters are heard on each of these topics.”