Groups suing Missouri call for action before election

One month after filing a 65-page lawsuit challenging the way Missouri handles voter registration updates, the ACLU of Missouri on Friday asked U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes to issue an injunction "to protect the right of qualified Missouri citizens to vote."

The April 17 lawsuit complained of state officials' "ongoing failure to comply with portions of the 'Motor Voter' provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993," naming Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Revenue Director Joel Walters as defendants.

Friday's 23-page "Suggestions In Support" of the original lawsuit's request for a preliminary injunction argues the "defendants' failure to update the voter registration information of DOR customers who submit a change-of-address form online or by mail violates the NVRA and, absent immediate relief, will deny qualified Missourians their right to vote and burden others."

Maura Browning, Ashcroft's spokeswoman, told the News Tribune on Monday the Secretary of State's Office had "not been served nor have we seen the injunction" requested in the new filing, so she wasn't able to comment on them.

She noted the Attorney General's Office already has asked the court to dismiss Ashcroft as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Revenue spokeswoman Anne Marie Moy said the department is "aware of the filing, but can't comment on pending litigation."

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the League of Women Voters of Missouri, and the St. Louis and Kansas City chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The original lawsuit asked the U.S. District Court for Western Missouri to "declare that the Defendants have violated, and are continuing to violate, Section 5 of the NVRA  by failing to provide NVRA-required disclosures and by failing to provide NVRA-compliant voter registration opportunities during: in-person, online, and mail change-of-address transactions, mail-renewal transactions for active-duty military personnel and their dependents, and certain in-person transactions in which an individual's immigration status is not verified."

The original suit also asked the court to "issue preliminary and permanent injunctions ordering the Defendants (and others) to develop, implement, and enforce practices and policies to ensure compliance with Section 5 of the NVRA."

Both last month's lawsuit and Friday's injunction motion noted the federal law "requires states to provide voter registration opportunities when individuals apply for or renew their driver's and nondriver's licenses" - and it also "requires that when a voter updates their address information with the state motor vehicle agency, the state must automatically update the individual's voter registration record as well, unless the voter specifically declines to have their voter-registration information updated."

But, the legal briefs argue, neither the Secretary of State's Office nor the Department of Revenue have followed those required provisions and - after having the problem pointed out to them nearly a year ago - state officials made some changes that "made the violations worse."

Monday's filing seeking a temporary injunction emphasized the state's "failure to update Missourians' voter registration information during online and mail change-of-address transactions threatens to disenfranchise a large numbers of voters."

The plaintiffs argue: "If a voter has moved to a different Missouri election jurisdiction, their provisional ballot is rejected," so their vote isn't counted.

Before August 2017, the lawsuit and Friday's motion said, the Revenue Department's online site "did not update users' voter registration information, (but) it did tell users to update their voter registration with Secretary of State and refer them to the (secretary's) website."

However, after the Department of Revenue changed its online change-of-address system in August 2017, Friday's motion says, it removed "any reference to voter registration whatsoever."

Now, Friday's motion says, the Revenue department "does not even inform individuals changing their address (on) how to update their voter registration, (so) some Missourians will only learn that they are not properly registered when they turn out to cast their ballots at the polls. This results in disenfranchisement and creates confusion and longer lines at the polls."

The motion asks the federal court to require the Department of Revenue and secretary of state to make sure anyone who moved since Nov. 8, 2016 - the last statewide general election - and used the Department of Revenue's website to note their change of address - gets the correct forms needed to update their current address and, in addition, is given a provisional ballot at the polling place that will be counted.