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MO state agency settles voter registration suit

By Maria Altman, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – The Missouri Department of Social Services settled a lawsuit Thursday that accused the agency of violating federal voting requirements.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and a St. Louis resident brought the suit in April of last year.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to offer residents voter registration at their motor vehicle offices and social service agencies.

But ACORN's Midwest Director Jeff Ordower says in recent years the responsibility has fallen on private groups to register voters.

"It's just like anything else the government should do. They should keep our roads up, they should make sure that everyone can participate in democracy," Ordower said. "It's basic bread and butter service of government, so we're glad that this is happening."

The suit alleged DSS violated federal law by not having the number of voter registration forms to meet demand and failing to submit completed forms to election officials quickly enough.

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction last July ordering DSS to comply with the federal voting registration law.

Since then department spokesman Scott Rowman says the agency has made a lot of progress.

"We're actually getting about 11,000 registration cards out of various offices around the state each and every month," he said.

DSS also must report each month the number of residents that visit its offices and how many choose to register to vote.

Voter rights groups say states have become lax about the National Voter Registration Act. Jon Greenbaum, legal director for Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says a case is pending in Ohio and the group plans to file in Indiana and New Mexico soon.