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Federal Judge Protects Eligible Voters in Washington

August 1, 2006

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Contact Information
Scott Schell, 917 226–0237
Justin Levitt, 212 992–8158

Court Blocks Law Creating New Obstacles to Voter Registration

Seattle, WA A federal court in Seattle today blocked enforcement of a Washington state law enacted earlier this year that would have kept eligible voters off the registration rolls because of typos and minor errors.

This is good news for Washingtons voters, said the Brennan Centers Justin Levitt, co-counsel for the plaintiffs coalition. Citizens in Washington can rest easy knowing that one major obstacle to voting this fall has been cleared away.

At issue in the case, Washington Association of Churches, et al. v. Reed (case no. C06–0726RSM), was a no match, no vote rule that barred citizens from voting in this falls elections unless the Secretary of State first succeeded in electronically matching ID data on a registration application usually a drivers license or Social Security number with existing government databases. (See state law RCW 29A.08.107.)

Judge Ricardo S. Martinezs opinion concerning the effect of the “match” requirement explained that the Court does not consider a persons right to vote a mere detail to be so easily dismissed.

After noting the closeness of Washingtons 2004 governors race, Judge Martinez stated that the public interest weighs strongly in favor of letting every eligible resident of Washington register and cast a vote.

Said Wendy Weiser, counsel for the coalition of plaintiffs and deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law: Todays ruling, along with cases pending in other states, may be the start of a new trend where courts will be carefully examining whether voters have been disenfranchised by the administrative decisions of election officials.

Pro bono counsel, Robert A. Atkins, of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, based in New York City, argued on behalf of plaintiffs before Judge Martinez on Friday, July 28, 2006, and Judge Martinez granted plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction today.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: Washington Association of Churches, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Service Employees International Union, Local 775 (SEIU), Washington Citizens Action, Organization of Chinese-Americans (Greater Seattle Chapter), Chinese Information and Service Center, Korean-American Voters Alliance, and Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington.