Civil Rights Groups Prevail in Lawsuit to Require Secretary of State to Improve Voter Registration Opportunities

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SAN FRANCISCO – On Friday, civil rights groups prevailed in their lawsuit against Secretary of State Alex Padilla to expand voter registration at agencies in the state that serve people on public assistance and individuals with disabilities. San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman ruled (see ruling) Padilla must require voter registration at additional agencies and contractors serving Californians throughout the state. More than 1.8 million Californians will benefit from the ruling.  

 The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California (ACLU) and Disability Rights California (DRC) filed suit against Secretary Padilla because of his failure to designate state and local offices that provide public assistance or are state funded offices primarily serving people with disabilities, known as “Voter Registration Agencies” (VRAs).  Secretary Padilla is required to identify offices that meet these definitions and notify them that they are required to provide voter registration opportunities under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and California’s Election code.

According to the decision, the following offices must now offer voter registration opportunities:

  • County offices administering General Assistance or General Relief Programs, which receive close to 300,000 applications each year;
  • Financial aid programs administered by the California Student Aid Commission, which received over 1.5 million applications last year;
  • Private entities providing services under contract on behalf of VRAs.

Friday’s decision follows years of advocacy by ACLU and DRC to compel Secretary Padilla to designate additional offices as voter registration agencies under the NVRA because they either provide public assistance or because they are state funded offices primarily serving people with disabilities. Last year, as a result of ACLU and DRC’s advocacy, Secretary Padilla agreed to designate as VRAs the disability services offices at all University of California and California State University campuses.  In August 2018, this litigation prompted Secretary Padilla to designate an additional two programs that serve Californians with disabilities as VRAs: California Community College offices for students with disabilities and the Department of Social Services, Office of Services to the Blind, Assistance Dog Special Allowance Program.

Further advocacy continues to achieve better compliance at voter registration agencies. Last year, an analysis of NVRA data revealed widespread deficiencies in California. The analysis showed that the state is systematically failing to provide voter registration services, especially to people with disabilities and low-income Californians.

“Millions of Californians faced barriers to voter registration due to Secretary Padilla’s inaction,” said Raúl Macías, voting rights project manager and attorney with the ACLU of California Voting Rights Project. “We are grateful for this decision and hope this will be a wake-up for the Secretary’s office that we need increased compliance with the NVRA overall.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California in the County of San Francisco.

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