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Profile: National Voter Registration Act

a.k.a. NVRA, Motor Voter Bill

National Voter Registration Act was a participant or observer in the following events:

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), or the “Motor Voter” Bill, signed into law by President Clinton, increases opportunities for voter registration. It particularly impacts minority and low-income voters. The NVRA requires states to provide for voter registration by mail, to allow voters to register when they receive driver’s licenses, and to allow voter registration at state agencies such as welfare and unemployment offices. The NVRA provides for the Justice Department to use federal courts to ensure compliance, and gives the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the responsibility of helping the 50 states develop mail-in voter registration forms. (In 2002, that responsibility will be shifted to the Election Assistance Commission under the Help America Vote Act—see October 29, 2002.) The NVRA takes effect on January 1, 1995, in all but six states—Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—because they have no voter registration requirements, or they have election-day registration at polling places. Arkansas, Vermont, and Virginia are given extra time to comply with the NVRA because they need to modify their state constitutions. Many states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia, will refuse to comply with the NVRA, and the resulting court cases will establish the constitutionality of the NVRA, and the Justice Department will order the states to drop their objections and comply with the act. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; US Department of Justice, 2012]

Entity Tags: Help America Vote Act, Election Assistance Commission, Federal Election Commission, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Voter Registration Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley finds that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat currently running for governor, violated voter rights by unlawfully working to block voter registration drives. Cox is also facing criticism of her handling of the state’s electronic voting contract with voting machine manufacturer Diebold. O’Kelley finds that Cox’s “rejection of voter registration applications on the ground that they were submitted in a bundle, or by someone who was not a registrar or deputy registrar, violated the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act, often called the Motor Voter law—see May 20, 1993].” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a fellow Democrat who has been critical of Cox’s actions, has introduced legislation that would codify the rights of private groups to conduct voter registration in Georgia, even though private groups already have that right. Butler recently told reporters, “These volunteers drive our voter registration in this state and we should make it easier, not harder, on them to help Georgia citizens complete the voter registration process.” She tells another reporter, “Strong voter registration rolls are the very foundation of our democracy and I will continue to fight for the rights of registered Georgians throughout the state.” Many critics say that Cox’s efforts to impede voter registration may have had what the Atlanta Progressive News calls “a disproportionate impact on outreach efforts to low-income individuals, working families, and the homeless, who often need advice about, and assistance with, registering to vote.” Cox was sued by the Wesley Foundation, the nonprofit charitable affiliate of a local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, an African-American fraternal organization that ran a voter registration drive on June 12, 2004. Cox rejected all 63 voter registration applications submitted to her office from the fraternity, claiming that the fraternity representatives failed to follow proper procedures, including obtaining pre-clearance from her office to conduct the drive. Under the NVRA, the fraternity and other private organizations have the right to conduct voter registration drives without the presence or permission of state or local election officials. O’Kelley’s ruling requires Cox to notify all 159 of Georgia’s county boards of registrars that they are not authorized to reject applications submitted by private voter registration organizers in the future for reasons previously delineated by Cox, and for her to acknowledge to the plaintiffs that they did not engage in improper conduct. [Atlanta Progressive News, 3/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Diebold Systems, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Atlanta Progressive News, Gloria Butler, Cathy Cox, Wesley Foundation, National Voter Registration Act, William C. O’Kelley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Robert Hinkle.Judge Robert Hinkle. [Source: Eddie Curran]US District Judge Robert Hinkle rejects an attempt by the US Department of Justice to block Florida’s attempted purge of what it calls non-citizens, in part because Florida has temporarily suspended the purge. Hinkle says that federal law prohibiting the systematic removal of voters in the months before an election does not apply to non-citizens. Hinkle also accepts Florida’s assurance that it has ended its purge efforts. The Justice Department argued that the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), which makes it illegal to perform what the law calls a systematic removal of voters before a federal election. Florida’s primary will be held on August 14. In 2011, Florida’s state motor vehicle agency created a database of some 2,600 people whose citizenship was determined to be “questionable,” but county election supervisors stopped using the database to remove voters from their rolls after concluding the list was unreliable and contained the names of many eligible voters. Justice Department lawyer John Bert Ross called Florida’s effort to purge “non-citizens” a “dragnet” that illegally forces US citizens to prove their legitimacy, though Ross was unable to cite an instance of a legitimate voter being removed from the voting rolls. Ross asked Hinkle to restore the voting rights of everyone purged from the voting rolls, a request that Hinkle rejected, saying: “Leaving ineligible voters on the list is not a solution. Non-citizens should not be voting. People need to know we are running an honest election.” The Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, is suing for access to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database to “better ascertain the citizenship status of voters,” according to Detzner’s attorney Michael Carvin. DHS has so far refused the request. Carvin says that if Detzner receives the data, “I do expect the state to proceed [with the purge] and protect the integrity of the voter rolls.” Hinkle accepts the state’s arguments that it is carrying out its duty to make sure non-citizens do not “dilute” the votes of actual citizens. Hinkle showed some concern that over half of the people on Florida’s “purge list” are Hispanic, saying: “That’s discriminatory, at least in effect. I don’t suggest that that was the purpose of this.” Hinkle also chided Collier County for sending letters to “potential non-citizens” challenging whether people born in Puerto Rico are legitimate US citizens. People born in Puerto Rico are US citizens by law. Collier County elections staffer Tim Durham says the county never sent such a letter. Hinkle says that with the elections approaching, “[t]he federal government and the state government ought to be working together to try to minimize the mistakes” instead of trying to settle the problem in court. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) praises the ruling, saying, “The court made a commonsense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote.” Democrats say Scott is trying to suppress legitimate votes in Florida; liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org calls the purge “racist” because of its focus on Hispanics. [Miami Herald, 6/27/2012]

Entity Tags: National Voter Registration Act, John Bert Ross, County of Collier (Florida), Ken Detzner, MoveOn (.org), Robert Hinkle, Michael Carvin, US Department of Justice, Tim Durham, US Department of Homeland Security, Rick Scott

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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