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ACORN v. Levy

ACORN v. Levy (formerly ACORN v. Scott) is a lawsuit filed in Kansas City, Missouri charging Deborah Scott, director of the Missouri Department Social Services (DSS), and Janel Luck, director of Family Services, with failing to fulfill their obligations under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to implement voter registration programs in public assistance agencies. Plaintiffs are represented by Project Vote, Demos, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Dewey & LeBoeuf and Arthur Benson.

In Missouri, local interviews with DSS clients revealed that public assistance agency staff were not asking everyone who applied, recertified, and changed their address whether they wanted to register to vote. Even more telling, numerous offices had run out of voter registration applications entirely and simply didn’t have any to offer clients. The result of this widespread noncompliance was clear: after collecting over 143,000 applications in the first two years of the NVRA, Missouri public assistance agencies had fallen to fewer than 8,000 applications a year by 2005-2006. Meanwhile, in 2006, more than 250,000 adults in households making less than $25,000 a year were not registered to vote in the state.

In 2008 Project Vote, Demos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in cooperation with the law firms of Dewey & LeBoeuf and Arthur Benson, filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS), and two county election boards, for violating Section 7 of the NVRA. The Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction, and in July 2008 a federal judge granted the motion, stating in the ruling that “the record clearly establishes that DSS employees have not fully complied with NVRA.” The court ordered DSS to immediately begin following the law.

In the six-week period following the court’s order, voter registrations through Missouri DSS agencies skyrocketed: more than 26,000 Missourians registered to vote through DSS agencies from mid-August through the end of September. Through the remainder of 2008 and the remainder of 2009, applications from DSS agencies continued at an impressive pace of between 8,000 and 18,000 per month. From August to December 2008, DSS agencies reported nearly 59,000 applications collected in local offices, nearly four times as many as were collected in all of 2005-2006.

In June 2009 the parties filed a settlement with the court that included stipulations to ensure future compliance with the NVRA. In 2009, Missouri public assistance agencies collected over 120,000 applications.

Case Study

Registering Low-Income Voters though Public Assistance Agencies in Missouri: A Success Story of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project. July 2009.

Litigation Documents

Complaint. April 23, 2008.

Motion for Preliminary Injunction. April 23, 2008.

Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction. April 23, 2008.

Proposed Order Granting Preliminary Injunction. April 23, 2008.

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction Against Defendants Scott and Luck. July 15, 2008.

Settlement Agreement. June 2009.

 

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