Nevada settles U.S. lawsuit on behalf of low-income voters
RENO — The state of Nevada has agreed to new training and reporting requirements to settle a federal lawsuit accusing its public assistance offices of failing to do enough to help low-income clients register to vote.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du signed the settlement agreement Monday between the state, National Council of La Raza, and the Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks chapters of the NAACP.
Among other things, the deal requires the secretary of state to appoint an official to serve as a statewide coordinator to ensure all benefits offices affiliated with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services are complying with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jones initially dismissed the lawsuit filed in Reno in 2012, ruling that the voting advocacy groups couldn’t prove they had suffered any direct harm. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his decision in September and sent the case back to federal court in Reno.
The act requires welfare and food stamp offices to distribute voter registration materials to people who apply for benefits, and to help people fill out the forms if needed.
It’s aimed at closing a wide voter registration gap between the rich and poor by reaching out to people who might not have contact with the DMV — a traditional hub for voter registration.
The lawsuit alleged it had become standard procedure for office staff not to ask assistance clients if they wished to register to vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union also has raised concerns about the processing of registration forms at the DMV.
The settlement agreement requires DHHS staff to “provide the same level of assistance to all clients in completing voter registration application forms as is provided with respect to every other service.”
Andrew Barbano, vice president of the NAACP Reno-Sparks Chapter, praised the agreement.
“It provides for staffing, tracking and follow-through, and makes democracy stronger,” he said Tuesday.
The settlement also directs the head of the DHHS to designate its own voting registration coordinator at the department, and a local coordinator for each local agency office before the end of March.
The statewide coordinator will be responsible for implementing corrective actions, ensuring timely training of employees and other duties.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Lori Story said Tuesday the state has been working hard since the lawsuit was filed to ensure compliance with the act.
“This agreement provides the plaintiffs with some review of the implementation and carrying out of those processes to ensure that all Nevada citizens are given ample opportunity to register to vote,” she said.