Judge Hears Argument For Urgent Response To National Voter Registration Act Violations

Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 10:52pm
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 8:31am

Voting rights groups are asking a federal judge to force the Arizona secretary of state to alert voters that their registration information may not be up to date.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state allege Arizona violated the National Voter Registration Act by administering a program that doesn’t properly sync motor vehicle records with voter registration records.

At a hearing in federal court on Wednesday, League of Women Voters Arizona Co-President Robyn Prud’homme-Bauer testified that she and other plaintiffs in the case became aware of a problem with the voter registration system.

“The nature of the problem is that when individuals go to change their address at the motor vehicle department, they are not automatically having their addresses updated with voter registration,” she said.

She told the court voters would have to go to a separate site or fill out a new form.

Prud’homme-Bauer said having the correct registration address is important for several reasons.

“They wont get their mail-in ballots,” she said. “They won’t get their election mailers.”

But Judge James Teilborg questioned the timing of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking a mandatory preliminary injunction which, as Teilborg seemed to indicate, would be a tough sell in his court.

“It’s my understanding that a mandatory injunction carries with it the highest burden of proving the elements,” he said.

“The motor vehicle system is not the only means by which one can register to vote or change their registration, correct?” Teilborg asked.

“Yes,” Prud’homme-Bauer confirmed.

Eric Jorgensen, director of the ADOT Motor Vehicle Division, told the court there had been 488,100 address updates since November 2016.

Eric Spencer, who serves as the state election director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said of those updates, about 380,000 had been identified as cases where the address for a motor vehicle registration did not match the address for a person’s voter registration.

The plaintiffs are asking Teilborg to order the Secretary of State’s Office to notify all of those people by mail and send them a new voter registration form.

Teilborg told the court he believed it was a tall order, noting the swiftly approaching November election.

Spencer told the court it would be an expensive and burdensome task. If possible to complete on time, he estimated sending out the proposed remedial mailer could cost several hundred thousand dollars.

Attorney Sarah Brannon argued in a closing statement that a violation of the National Voter Registration Act was a significant offense that caused irreparable harm.

“This is supposed to be an easy, streamlined process,” she said. “The burden lies with the government.”

Teilborg said he will now take the matter under advisement. Plaintiffs asked for a remedial letter to be drafted “no later than Sept. 17.”

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