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Demos Applauds Schumer Letter Urging DOJ to Sue States for Federal Voter Registration Law Non-Compliance

For Immediate Release
April 7, 2009

Contact: Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407, trusch@demos.org

Demos Applauds Chairman Schumer for Urging Attorney General Holder and DOJ to Sue States that Ignore Federal Voter Registration Law

Washington, DC--Today, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Chair of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, sent a letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder urging the Department of Justice to investigate state noncompliance with section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to offer voter registration opportunities in public assistance agencies. Citing widespread evidence of states failing to comply, and underscoring the success of states that fully implement NVRA, Schumer urged DOJ to sue those unwilling to implement the law.

In response, Miles Rapoport, President of the national policy and advocacy center Demos, which is engaged in a long-term project to ensure that states fully implement NVRA Section 7, issued the following statement:

"In his letter to Attorney General Holder, Senator Schumer brings some much needed attention to the failure of many states to meet the letter of the law and fully implement the National Voter Registration ActÂ’s requirement that states provide agency-based voter registration. This mandate is designed specifically to bring more lower-income citizens into the democratic process, providing a greater political voice for Americans who are under-represented in the general electorate.

"Experience shows that implementation and enforcement of the law do, in fact, bring greater numbers of low-income citizens into the political process. As Senator Schumer points out, our work in North Carolina has led to a six-fold increase in the number of voter registrations from public assistance agencies. In addition, recent changes in Virginia led to an almost eight-fold increase in registrations while Missouri, under a court order to comply with the law, has registered almost 80,000 voters in its Department of Social Services offices since August. The stateÂ’s public assistance agencies registered only 15,500 clients in all of 2005 and 2006 combined.

"The enforcement of this law rests with the Department of Justice, which, as Senator Schumer points out, launched a vigorous enforcement campaign in the 1990s by filing litigation in states that were noncompliant with the law. Unfortunately, over much of the last eight years, DOJ shifted focus away from protecting the rights guaranteed under NVRA. With increased attention brought to the issue over the last year, DOJ has already started focusing more attention to the issue, entering into settlement agreements over agency-based registration implementation with the states of Arizona and Illinois.

"WeÂ’re hopeful that Senator SchumerÂ’s letter, and the example of states such as North Carolina and Virginia that are working in their citizensÂ’ interest and fully enforcing Section 7, will inspire the Department of Justice to pursue an even more robust enforcement of Section 7 of the NVRA through its Civil Rights Division.

"We applaud Senator Schumer for taking this step, and look forward to working with DOJ in their enforcement efforts."

Background on Demos and NVRA: Through its NVRA Implementation Project, Demos, in partnership with Project Vote and the Lawyers' Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, has since 2004 assisted several states to quickly and effectively implement Section 7Â’s agency-based voter registration requirement. For more information about NVRA, and related research, litigation news and Congressional testimony, visit www.demos.org. To schedule an interview with a Demos staff member working on NVRA's agency-based voter registration requirements, contact Tim Rusch at (212) 389-1407 or trusch@demos.org.

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