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ACORN v. Murphy

July 20, 2009  |  Voting Rights Project

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), most commonly known for its "motor voter" component, requires that states provide voter registration services in conjunction with the provision of public assistance benefits.  Low-income citizens are less likely to own a car and are among the least likely to register to vote at motor vehicle departments, making the public assistance requirement crucial in reaching these citizens.   In enacting the NVRA, Congress expressly recognized that the right to vote "is a fundamental right," and took note of the disproportionate harm to voter participation by racial minorities caused by discriminatory and unfair registration laws and procedures.

In July 2009, plaintiffs filed suit against Indiana state officials based on their failure to offer voter registration at public assistance offices in the State.  The suit was brought on behalf of the class of all public assistance clients who are not registered to vote and who have been denied the opportunity to register to vote at Indiana public assistance offices.  The individual named plaintiffs include ACORN, the Indiana Conference of the NAACP, and an individual public assistance recipient.  Plaintiffs are represented by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Demos, Project Vote, the ACLU of Indiana, the NAACP, Advocates for Justice and Reform Now, and the firm of Miner, Barnhill and Galland.

This lawsuit is part of an ongoing coalitional effort by the Lawyers' Committee, Demos, and Project Vote to ensure that states fully carry out their responsibility under the NVRA to offer voter registration at public assistance offices.  On the same day that the Indiana lawsuit was filed, the Lawyers' Committee and its partners filed suit against state officials in New Mexico to remedy that State's failure to comply with the NVRA (at public assistance offices and also at motor vehicle department offices).   The Lawyers' Committee and its partners previously sued Missouri officials (ACORN v. Scott), which was resolved through the entry of a preliminary injunction and then a comprehensive settlement, and Ohio officials (Harkless v. Brunner), which is being litigated in the federal trial court in Ohio.

This lawsuit is at its early stages.  Plaintiffs have filed a motion for the court to certify the case as a class action, state officials have filed a motion to dismiss, and discovery has not yet begun. 

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Practical Progressive - Official Selection 2008