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More than One Hundred Thousand Low-Income Ohioans Register to Vote Print E-mail

In first half of 2010, Voter Applications Skyrocket at State Public Assistance Offices

AUGUST 5, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- More than 100,000 low-income Ohio residents have applied to register to vote at state Department of Job and Family Service (ODJFS) offices in the first six months of 2010, following a federal court settlement to bring the state agency into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

Statewide, 101,604 voter registration applications--roughly two-thirds of them from women--were submitted by ODJFS clients between January 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010, according to agency records. This surge in applications followed the settlement of a 2006 lawsuit brought by voting rights groups--including Project Vote, Demos, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law--to bring the state into compliance with the NVRA, which requires public assistance offices to provide voter registration services.

The lawsuit was settled in November 2009. During the first six months of 2010, ODJFS offices averaged 17,000 registration applications per month. The volume of voter applications is nearly a ten-fold increase compared to the applications collected prior to the lawsuit, when Ohio agencies were registering only 1,775 per month.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner praised ODJFS's efforts for low-income voters.

"Since the beginning of our administration, my staff and I have made it a priority to ensure that the voting aged population inOhio has equal and fair access to registration and voting," said Brunner. "Under the National Voter Registration Act, Congress recognized that certain populations had more difficulty in accessing voting and required Job and Family Services offices throughout the nation to offer voter registration services with guidance from the Secretary of State. We are pleased our efforts in Ohio have realized increases in voter registration of Job and Family Services clients and look forward to our continued partnership with ODJFS and advocate organizations working to serve this population."

Voter Registration Applications Submitted at ODJFS Offices

January 2010

13,746

February 2010

15,670

March 2010

20,428

April 2010

18,152

May 2010

16,405

June 2010

17,203

TOTAL

101,604

Source: Ohio Department of Job and Family Services


Ohio and NVRA Compliance

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 was designed to increase participation in federal elections. In addition to the better-known 'motor voter' program of offering registration through state motor vehicle agencies, the NVRA also requires registration to be offered through public assistance agencies. This provision was included to reach historically underrepresented populations--such as low-income individuals, people with disabilities, minority populations, and new military recruits--who were less likely to register through 'motor voter' and other means.

However, while most states have successfully implemented voter registration at motor vehicle offices, voting rights groups say that many states--including Ohio--were largely neglecting public assistance agencies for years.

"The NVRA was enacted to ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to register to vote," said Nicole Kovite, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote, a voting rights group that participated in the litigation. "By ignoring this vital law, Ohio was denying this right to thousands of its residents every year."

Ohio's 2010 public assistance agency registration figures are a striking contrast with the ODJFS' performance before the agency reinstituted the required voter services.

According to the 2006 lawsuit, during the 2003-2004 federal election cycle, ODJFS offices in 10 counties did no register a single voter; offices in 17 counties registered fewer than 10 voters; and offices in 32 counties submitted fewer than 100 applications; rural Athens County collected more voter applications than highly populated Franklin, Hamilton, Montgomery, and Summit Counties. During this same period, ODJFS processed more than 4.7 million applications or re-certifications for Food Stamps.

The November 2009 settlement compels ODJFS to create and distribute voter registration materials, train agency employees, assign county and state coordinators, monitor and enforce compliance, and track results and report back to the plaintiffs.

Ohio's success is remarkable, but not unique. A similar lawsuit against Missouri settled in July 2008 has resulted in nearly 250,000 voter applications submitted through public assistance agencies in that state during the past two years. Additional lawsuits are pending in other states. Voting rights groups estimate that 2-3 million low-income Americans a year could apply nationwide if all states complied with the NVRA.

"The incredible turnaround in Ohio is evidence of their renewed commitment to low-income voters, and a testament to the potential of public agency registration nationwide," says Kovite. "Our hope is that other underperforming states will not wait to be sued, but will follow Ohio's example and comply with this important law."

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For more information about this litigation, including court documents, click here.

 

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