New York Immigration Coalition v. Rensselaer County Board of Elections

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Active
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At a Glance

New York Immigration Coalition and partners are suing the Rensselaer County Board of Elections and several Rensselaer County officials over the County’s plan to improperly divulge voter registration information gathered by the Rensselaer County DMV to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in violation of both New York and federal law.

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About this Case

New York Immigration Coalition, Common Cause/New York, Community Voices Heard, Citizen Action of New York, and Jenifer Benn are suing the Rensselaer County Board of Elections and several Rensselaer County officials over the County’s plan to improperly divulge voter registration information gathered by the Rensselaer County DMV to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

 

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), requires states to allow their citizens to register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver’s license or ID card. Under the NVRA, the fact that a person registered to vote at the DMV or any other agency is confidential; disclosure of that fact is prohibited.

 

On July 17, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act” (also called the “Green Light Act”), which allows New York residents to obtain driver’s licenses without providing evidence of legal residence status in the United States. Those licenses would state that they are “Not for Federal Purposes.” The Green Light Act also enhanced privacy protections for driver’s license applicants by prohibiting disclosure of any records related to driver’s license applications to anyone other than the applicant, including immigration enforcement agencies (and specifically including ICE). Most of the Green Light Act’s provisions become effective on December 14, 2019.

 

Two days later, on July 19, the Rensselaer County Board of Elections announced at a press conference that they would begin providing ICE with voter registration information, including names and addresses, of all individuals who register to vote at the DMV. The purpose of the disclosure would be “to ascertain if any of these people are in the U.S. illegally.” ICE is responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, but it has no role in administering voter registration or elections. ICE does not offer citizenship verification services to local election officials.

 

New York resident Jenifer Benn, along with several community groups, including Common Cause/New York, New York Immigration Coalition, Community Voices Heard, and Citizens Involved, sued the county for unconstitutionally burdening the right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and for voter intimidation under Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In their Complaint, the Plaintiffs alleged that Rensselaer County’s plan to turn over voter registration information to ICE would subject U.S. Citizens to risk of unlawful arrest and detention, given ICE’s recent highly publicized history of erroneously arresting, detaining, and even deporting U.S. Citizens based on false information. According to the Plaintiffs, the County’s plan and conduct will intimidate eligible citizens from registering to vote at the DMV, in violation of the Constitution and the VRA.

 

The County defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the appropriate legal standards to prove voter intimidation.

 

CLC has filed a friend-of-the-court brief explaining that the County Defendants’ interpretation of the law is patently incorrect, and that Rensselaer County’s disclosure of voter registration information to ICE is a modern form of voter intimidation, strikingly similar to tactics used throughout our nation’s history to disenfranchise eligible voters.

 

Rensselaer County’s conduct undercuts one of our most fundamental rights, the right to vote. The County’s intimidation of eligible voters sends a clear message to plaintiffs and to the American people more broadly that participation in the democratic process may come at a steep price, and that exercising a constitutional right may lead to increased and unlawful scrutiny from immigration enforcement agencies on voters and their families. Rensselaer County’s actions are designed to intimidate, to deter political participation, and to undermine the functioning of American democratic processes. It is paramount that our political system safeguards the right of all Americans to have their voice heard in the electoral process.

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Documents

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