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Legal Settlements Protect Voters

Organizations in Ohio, Missouri, and elsewhere are correcting problems that prevented thousands of people from voting in recent elections.

The League of Women Voters reached a settlement in July on a four-year-old lawsuit against the state of Ohio. The lawsuit was intended to fix problems that were rampant in the state’s elections systems in 2004, when voters waited in line for up to 14 hours and registered voters cast provisional ballots that were never counted.


Ohio voters wait in line during the 2008 election.

Photo by Dean Beeler

The settlement mandates monitoring of poll worker performance and voting equipment malfunctions and requires the secretary of state to oversee activities of county elections boards.

In June, ACORN reached a settlement with the state of Missouri requiring the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) to provide voter-registration applications to its clients. DSS first began offering this service in July 2008, following a preliminary court order. Since then, more than 100,000 low-income voters have registered at public assistance offices. Only 15,000 such voters registered in the three years prior.

In July, a voting rights coalition—including ACORN, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Project Vote—filed lawsuits in New Mexico and Indiana. The suits allege noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to make voter registration available at public assistance offices.

The national voting rights group, Project Vote, says few states are following that directive. During the first two years after the law went into effect in 1995, 2.6 million low-income voters registered, but registration among that demographic has since dropped by as much as 90 percent in some states.

“In this last election, there were still something like 11 million low-income eligible voters who were not registered to vote,” says Brenda Wright, director at Demos, a national policy think tank. “Making voter registration accessible and convenient at government agencies is a proven way to give people access to the process.”

—Susie Shutts is a freelance writer based in Ohio.


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