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Judge Orders Missouri Officials To Comply With Motor Voter Law

Joe Gratz

A federal judge ordered Missouri officials to provide voter registration information to residents seeking to update their addresses at motor vehicle offices by mail or online.

U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes found that their failure to do so violates the National Voter Registration Act, more commonly known as the federal motor voter law.

Wimes ordered the action to be taken ahead of this November’s election. His order came in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the League of Women Voters and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The suit named Missouri Secretary of State John R. "Jay" Ashcroft and Joel Walters, director of the Missouri Department of Revenue. Ashcroft is the state’s chief election official responsible for enforcing the motor voter law. The Department of Revenue oversees the Driver License Bureau.

Under the federal law, the state is supposed to update residents’ voter registration information whenever they update their address with their motor vehicle office. Missouri had been doing that for voters making updates in person but not for those making those changes by mail or online.

Evidence in the case showed about 200,000 Missourians move to new counties every year and thus to new election jurisdictions. Since the 2016 election, some 40,000 Missourians used the forms at issue to update their license records, according to the defendants' own records.

“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,” Davin Rosborough, a staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.

Wimes said his findings were consistent with the federal law’s “enumerated purposes of increasing the number of eligible citizens and protecting the integrity of the electoral process.”

Officials with the secretary of state’s office and the revenue department could not immediately be reached for comment.

Keith Robinson, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s St. Louis chapter, said in a statement that Missouri’s failure to update all voters’ registrations when they move disproportionately affects low-income residents and people of color.

“People of color and low-income individuals are less likely to own homes or have dependable transportation, which results in more interaction with DOR (the department of revenue),” he said. “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.”

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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