MALDEF

The Road to the Ballot Box Goes Through the Courtroom

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The Road to the Ballot Box Goes Through the Courtroom

MALDEF Stops Georgia Voter Suppression Strategy; Ready to Represent Latino Voters from now to Election Night

OCTOBER 27, 2008 – MALDEF attorneys swung into action recently to block the State of Georgia’s unlawful screening of ethnic and minority voters, both naturalized and U.S.-born citizens. On October 9, MALDEF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and attorney Brian Spears, filed suit in U.S. District Court (N.D. GA.) seeking an order to stop the Secretary of State from using database matching procedures that inaccurately flag U.S. citizens as non-citizens; the matching system is used for both voter registrants and current registered voters on the rolls. The suit alleges that the flawed matching verification procedures were illegally implemented because the Secretary of State failed to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before starting to use them. Today, a three-judge federal court panel issued a Preliminary Injunction and found that Georgia violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by failing to submit the database verification procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice and also found that the Plaintiff’s claim was not moot.

MALDEF represents Jose Morales, a naturalized U.S. citizen and one of a number of registered voters who received several letters from county election officials alleging that his citizenship was being questioned. In an attempt to clear up the error, Mr. Morales presented his U.S. passport to county election officials and thought the matter was resolved. Soon after, he received another notice telling him that if he were unable to prove his U.S. citizenship, his name would be removed from voter rolls. Mr. Morales indicated he was upset that his right to vote as a U.S. citizen was being threatened. After MALDEF filed the lawsuit, Mr. Morales was contacted by his elections office and informed that he would be permitted to vote. In court papers and oral argument, MALDEF argued that Georgia’s new voting procedures violated both the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the State of Georgia must submit any voting change, such as database matching procedures and voter removal plans, to the U.S. Department of Justice prior to implementation. Under the 1993 law, election officials may not systematically remove voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election unless the voter dies, requests removal, has been declared unfit to vote or has a criminal conviction.

“In this election, we are seeing new attempts to suppress the right to vote of even long-time citizens,” stated MALDEF Director of Litigation Cynthia Valenzuela. Throughout the country, between now and Election Day, MALDEF attorneys, in coalition with others, will be monitoring early voting stations and polling places to ensure that Latino citizens are not discriminatorily denied the right to vote.

In other voter protection litigation today, MALDEF sued a politically-connected attorney and private investigator in the State of New Mexico for a campaign of intimidation against Latina voters who are properly registered and qualified to vote but have been subject to public accusations of voter fraud, as well as harassment by a man claiming to be an investigator who appeared at their homes. The case is now pending in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

If you have a problem with voting, our national office and several of our regional offices are coordinating with the two main national voter protection efforts – NALEO (1-888-Ve-Y-Vota) and Lawyers’ Committee (1-866-OUR-VOTE) – and will be available to field calls received on the hotlines and provide legal advice. For further information on MALDEF’s election protection activities, see our website www.maldef.org.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund