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National Voter Registration Act

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Montana Democratic Party v. Eaton (Donald W. Molloy, D. Mont. 9:08-cv-141)
One political party filed an action against the other political party for launching an effort to nullify several thousand voter registrations based on postal changes of address. Because the state did not fully effectuate the plan, in part because of the filing of the case, the court did not need to grant the plaintiffs relief.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) was enacted in 1993 to promote voter registration and registration accuracy. The statute requires states to establish procedures for voter registration (1) upon obtaining a driver’s license; (2) by mail; (3) at government offices, including those providing public assistance or disability services; and (4) at military recruitment offices. This monograph surveys federal court interpretations of the statute. The text of the statute is included as an appendix.

Note 1: Since the publication of this guide, courts of appeals have reversed two district court decisions described in the guide:
a. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit determined that the Election Assistance Commission is not required to permit states to amend the federal voter registration form to require proof of citizenship beyond a written statement under penalty of perjury: Kobach v. United States Election Assistance Comm'n, 772 F.3d 1183 (10th Cir.), rev'g 6 F. Supp. 3d 1252 (D. Kan. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 2891 (2015); see League of Women Voters v. Newby, 838 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (overruling the Federal Election Assistance Commission's permission for some states to add a citizenship documentation requirement to the federal voter registration form, because the commission failed to show or find that the addition was necessary); Fish v. Kobach, 840 F.3d 710 (10th Cir. 2016) (attestation under penalty of perjury that a voter registration applicant is a citizen is sufficient absent a factual showing that a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered to vote).
b. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal by a District of Nevada Judge of a section 7 case for lack of standing and ordered the case reassigned to a different judge: National Council of La Raza v. Cegavske, 800 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir. 2015), rev'g 914 F. Supp. 2d 1201 (D. Nev. 2012).

Note 2: In September 2014, NVRA provisions were moved from sections 1973gg through 1973gg-10 of title 42 of the U.S. Code to sections 20501 through 20511 of a new title 52.

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United States Student Ass’n Foundation v. Land (Stephen J. Murphy III, E.D. Mich. 2:08-cv-14019)
Three organizations filed a federal complaint charging the state with improperly canceling voter registrations based on insufficient indications of residence changes. The district judge determined that the state’s practice of rejecting voter registrations if registration identification cards came back from the post office as undeliverable failed to follow the notice and waiting period requirements of the National Voter Registration Act. The state’s practice of canceling registrations upon learning that the voter became registered to drive in another state also relied on flawed logic and violated the act. The case was finally resolved by settlement with a payment of $150,000 in attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act; attorney fees; intervention.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Diaz v. Hood (James Lawrence King, S.D. Fla. 1:04-cv-22572)
Eight days after voter registration closed for the 2004 general election, three would-be voters and four unions filed a federal complaint alleging that five counties were improperly failing to process and approve voter registrations. At the end of the week, the district court heard a motion to expedite the case; at the end of the following week, the court heard a motion for a preliminary injunction. Four days later, the court dismissed the case for lack of standing, because the plaintiffs either cured or refused to cure their registration defects. In 2005, the court of appeals reversed the dismissal. The district court ruled against the plaintiffs again in 2006, but without prejudice. After a five-day bench trial on a third amended complaint, the court again ruled against the plaintiffs, finding the firm deadline for voter registration to be constitutionally reasonable.
Topics: Registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; intervention; recusal.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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González v. Arizona (2:06-cv-1268), Inter Tribal Council of Arizona v. Brewer (3:06-cv-1362), and Navajo Nation v. Brewer (3:06-cv-1575) (Roslyn O. Silver, D. Ariz.)
Four months before Arizona’s 2006 primary election, a federal complaint challenged proposition 200, a 2004 initiative that enhanced requirements for proof of citizenship for voter registration and proof of identity and residence for voting. The district court acted quickly on the plaintiffs’ motions for a temporary restraining order but denied injunctive relief. In 2012, the court of appeals determined en banc that the proof of citizenship procedure for registration is superseded by the National Voter Registration Act but the identification requirement for voting is not. The Supreme Court agreed that the required federal registration form did not permit additional evidence of citizenship.
Subject: Registration procedures. Topics: Citizenship; voter identification; registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; interlocutory appeal; recusal; section 5 preclearance; primary election.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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National Coalition for Students with Disabilities Education and Legal Defense Fund v. Bush (Robert L. Hinkle, N.D. Fla. 4:00-cv-442)
A federal complaint alleged that Florida failed to provide voter registration services to disabled students, as required by the National Voter Registration Act, for the 2000 general election. The district judge concluded that “the time to seek any *registration+ redress affecting the 2000 election was prior to that election.” Respecting long-term relief, the case settled in May 2001. The judge later learned that a named plaintiff was also a named plaintiff in a similar action in another state; he awarded the plaintiffs zero attorney fees.
Topics: National Voter Registration Act; registration procedures; laches; attorney fees.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

Available Online Only

Lucas County Democratic Party v. Blackwell (James G. Carr, N.D. Ohio 3:04-cv-7646)
Eighteen days before a general election, a suit alleged that a directive by Ohio’s secretary of state not to process voter registration forms that left blank the box for a driver’s license or Social Security number violated the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act. The court denied immediate relief, because there was not enough time to develop an evidentiary record.
Topics: Registration procedures; Help America Vote Act (HAVA); National Voter Registration Act; laches.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Common Cause of Colorado v. Coffman (John L. Kane, D. Colo. 1:08-cv-2321)
A federal complaint alleged that Colorado was engaging in improper systematic purging of voter registration rolls within 90 days of a general election in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. Among the issues in the case was Colorado’s practice of canceling new registrations if registration notices came back undeliverable within 20 days of their being mailed. After an evidentiary hearing, the parties stipulated to a temporary restraining order. The state’s secretary of state adopted an aggressive interpretation of his attorney’s stipulation, but the district judge further restrained the secretary’s actions. The litigation proceeded at a normal pace after the election, and the district judge eventually ruled that Colorado’s 20-day rule did not violate the National Voter Registration Act because voters affected by it could cast provisional ballots.
Topics: Registration challenges; registration procedures; National Voter Registration Act; enforcing orders; case assignment.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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Bell v. Marinko (James G. Carr, N.D. Ohio 3:02-cv-7204)
With a primary election 18 days away, a voter filed a federal complaint seeking injunctive relief against the county’s hearing a challenge to his voter registration on residency grounds. The district court determined that challenge procedures did not violate the National Voter Registration Act, but there was a probable equal protection violation by a statutory provision raising a question of residence for spouses not separated and not registered in the same precinct. The court temporarily enjoined application of that statutory provision. After the election, the court heard summary judgment motions on an amended complaint adding plaintiffs whose residency challenges were successful; the original plaintiff prevailed in his challenge. The district court dismissed the action, and the court of appeals affirmed.
Topics: Registration challenges; equal protection; National Voter Registration Act; primary election.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

Available Online Only

Maine Democratic Party v. City of Portland (Kermit V. Lipez, D. Me. 2:00-cv-360)
A large number of voters went to the polls in Portland, Maine, for the 2000 general election to discover that their voter registrations had been canceled. Poll workers referred them to city hall, where lines grew very long. On the afternoon of the election, the Democratic Party sought a temporary restraining order to keep the polls open an extra two hours. All district judges were out of town, so a local circuit judge heard the motion. The judge declined to keep the polls open late but ordered the polls to let voters correct registration errors at the polls and ordered that all voters in line by the time the polls closed be able to vote.
Topics: Registration challenges; National Voter Registration Act; polling hours.

One of many Case Studies in Emergency Election Litigation.

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