This voting registration case was filed on May 15, 2012, by a consortium of public interest lawyers, as part of a national campaign (other states listed below); private counsel from the Boston firm Ropes & Gray participated in this one, as well. They sued the state of Massachusetts in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs alleged that Massachusetts was systematically failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), section 7, 42 U.S.C. 1973gg-5(a), under which public assistance offices must provide voter registration services to assistance recipients, with each application, recertification, renewal, or change of address. The plaintiffs were an assistance recipient and two voter registration organizations. They sought an injunction requiring implementation and enforcement of appropriate practices and policies to ensure compliance with Section 7 of the NVRA, along with reporting and monitoring of that plan.
According to a July 13, 2012, joint motion for a stay of discovery and other proceedings, the parties reached a partial out-of-court settlement on July 5, 2012, under which Massachusetts agreed to undertake "certain preliminary actions before the November elections," and to attempt to settle the case finally. The court granted the requested stay until December 31, 2012. The parties also agreed to a comprehensive protective order relating to discovery materials.
According to press reports, as part of the settlement, the state then mailed out a letter informing benefits recipients of their right to register to vote, and giving them information on how to register. The letter was printed in the Boston Herald, and is posted here. This interim agreement yielded at least 39,000 voter registration applications from DTA’s low-income clients over a four-month period. In contrast, in the four years prior to this lawsuit, DTA clients had filled out only 3,100 voter registration applications.
However, the parties did not reach a final settlement and discovery and other proceedings began again in 2013.
On March 14, 2014, the District Court (Judge Denise J. Casper) granted the plaintiffs' motion to file an amended complaint and denied Massachusetts's motion for judgment on the pleadings. Three days later, the plaintiffs filed their amended complaint.
On March 20, 2015, the District Court (Judge Casper) issued an order of final judgment dismissing only the claims asserted against defendant Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance as agreed to by the parties in a settlement agreement. The court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and the DTA, but the parties explicitly agreed that it was not a consent decree. The agreement would last for three years.
On June 17, 2015, the plaintiffs settled the remaining claims with the SOC and the EOHHS in two separate settlement agreements. The court issued a final judgment dismissing the claims, but retaining jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlements. The agreements would remain in effect until July 31, 2018. The SOC agreed to review DTA and MassHealth voter registration policies and training materials, participate in training, and monitor registration activities of each of the public assistance agencies. The SOC agreed to post the resulting voter registration on the SOC’s website. EOHHS, which oversees DTA, MassHealth and several other agencies with voter registration responsibilities, agreed to send an annual notice to each such agency, reminding it of its NVRA responsibilities. MassHealth agreed to provide a voter registration application and offer assistance to each individual who applies, renews, or changes his or her address in connection with Medicaid benefits. MassHealth would also provide regular training for its employees and monitor NVRA compliance. The online health benefits application jointly used by MassHealth and the Massachusetts Health Connector would be re-programmed to provide voter registration opportunities.
Nationally, a public interest organization, Demos, has filed similar lawsuits in nine states and settled with eight of those states: Ohio, Missouri, New Mexico, Indiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Nevada. As of the date of this summary, litigation is still pending in Louisiana. In addition, Alabama, California, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington all agreed to comply without being sued.Jessica Kincaid - 03/26/2016