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Arizona and Justice Department Reach Settlement on Federal Voter Registration Law Implementation PDF  | Print |  Email
By Demos Press Release   
May 22, 2008
Lawsuit Over Section 7 of National Voter Registration Act Avoided

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Arizona's Department of Economic Security (DES), the state's public assistance agency, have entered into an agreement to ensure the state's compliance with Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.  Section 7 of the NVRA requires state public assistance agencies to offer the opportunity to register to vote, and related voter registration services, when clients apply for benefits, recertify eligibility, or change their addresses.  After investigating DES, the Department of Justice found "substantial non-compliance with Section 7 of the NVRA" and threatened to sue.  (Agreement PDF at http://www.demos.org/pub1570.cfm) Rather than litigate, DES and DOJ agreed to settle the matter outside of court.
 
Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a non-partisan public policy center engaged in a national campaign to work with states to fully implement Section 7 of the NVRA, released the following statement:
 
"We applaud the Department of Justice for taking serious steps to enforce this important provision of the National Voter Registration Act, as the statute requires it to do, in the state of Arizona.  Several years have passed since the Justice Department has settled or filed any lawsuit against a state for failure to provide voter registration services at public assistance agencies despite widespread evidence of such violations across the nation.  In fact, DOJ last acted on NVRA Section 7 compliance problems through a lawsuit filed in Tennessee in 2002.

"This enforcement action in Arizona was urgently needed, and we hope it will serve as a catalyst to other states that are not providing low-income citizens with the federally mandated opportunity to register to vote.  Earlier this year, Demos and its partner Project Vote sent a letter to Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, notifying her that public assistance registrations, in 2005-2006, had dropped to less than one-fifth the numbers achieved in 1999-2000.  Partly due to Arizona's agency failures, the state currently suffers an economic registration gap of 30 percentage points: only 48 percent of citizens in households making less than $15,000 reported being registered to vote compared to 78 percent from those making $75,000 or more.
 
"To rectify these problems, the settlement agreement requires Arizona's public assistance employees to distribute voter registration applications to clients conducting business at an office, by telephone, or by Internet.  Additionally, it requires the agency to conduct annual education and training on the statute's requirements, to give clients the same help completing registration forms as they would for any other public-assistance service, and to internally track its compliance through audits and reports.  Also, DOJ has the right to conduct two audits per year without prior notice.  The agreement will remain in effect for three years, through May 1, 2011.
 
"We note that this enforcement action by the Justice Department comes after significant pressure from Congress to explain why there has been so little Section 7 enforcement activity over the last six years.  In recent years, Demos has met with DOJ's Voting Section several times--including a meeting in March of this year, submitted evidence of state noncompliance and DOJ inaction to members of Congress, and on April 1, 2008, testified before the Elections Subcommittee of the House Administration Committee about enforcement problems.  There is growing federal-level interest in taking steps toward full enforcement of this important law. We hope that this agreement between the Justice Department and the state of Arizona evinces a reinvigorated commitment by the Department to Section 7 of the NVRA, and to ensuring that each American--no matter his or her economic bracket--gets the chance to register to vote."
 
For more information on NVRA Section 7 compliance in Arizona and in states across the country, including a national report "Unequal Access", as well as testimony and copies of letters between advocates, legislators and DOJ, visit www.demos.org. To schedule an interview with a Demos NVRA campaign staff member, contact Tim Rusch at or call (212) 389-1407.
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