CLC's voting rights team sent letters to six states informing them that their forms may be effectively depriving people with past convictions of the right to vote by failing to provide accurate information about their eligibility.
The states are Nebraska, Arizona, Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware, and Nevada.
The problem in common with each of these states is that missing or inaccurate information provided by the state make it difficult for people with past convictions to determine their eligibility to vote. Fortunately, this has proven to be an easy fix once CLC made election administrators aware of the problem.
What is the NVRA and where are states falling short?
The purpose of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) is to ease the voter registration process, a goal as relevant today as when it passed in 1993. The NVRA requires states to inform residents of voter eligibility requirements and make sure their forms are up to date.
State compliance with this important law enhances participation in our democracy. It is the responsibility of each state to inform the Election Assistance Commission about changes in the law so the federal instructions can be updated. However, the information available to people with past convictions to determine their eligibility in some states are virtually nonexistent. In other states, the information on registration forms and other resources are simply wrong.
Take Nebraska’s case for example. On paper, their state law since 2005 mandates automatic restoration of voting rights two years after the completion of a citizen’s prison sentence. This was a major improvement over the state’s pre-2005 system, which required an executive pardon. However, eligible voters wouldn’t know this if they read the instructions on the federal form, which currently say that to register to vote in Nebraska, one must “not have been convicted of a felony, or if convicted, have had your civil rights restored.” In good news for confused voters, Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale – who was surprised to learn of the error and said nobody had pointed it out until now – said his office has updated the EAC regarding the error after receiving CLC’s letter. He said he was grateful to learn of the error. CLC is passionate about this because the 2018 elections are upon us, and we cannot afford to have a voter registration system that fails to inform every eligible American of her right to vote.