Skip Navigation
Court Case Tracker

Washington Association of Churches v. Reed

The Brennan Center has resolved the first lawsuit in the country concerning a new procedure to “match” voter information from one source to another.

Published: March 16, 2007

The Brennan Center has resolved the first lawsuit in the country concerning a new procedure to “match” voter information from one source to another. After winning a preliminary injunction on August 1, 2006, on behalf of a coalition of citizens and groups concerned about voting rights in Washington State, the Brennan Center consented to an order entered by a Seattle federal court on March 16, 2007. This order blocks enforcement of a law (RCW 29A.08.107) in a way that would bar citizens from voting unless the Secretary of State first succeeds in matching their names, drivers license or Social Security numbers, and birth dates from their voter registration forms with records kept in other government databases.

Before the lawsuit was brought, some voters had already been blocked from registering by typos or other minor problems like these. For example, Marina Petrienko (who submitted a statement to the court, reproduced below) is a newly eligible U.S. citizen who tried to register to vote for the first time last winter. But a county official mis-typed the year of her birth, putting “1976” into the database, instead of the year on her form: “1975.” There is no question that Ms. Petrienko was eligible to vote, and there is no question that she provided accurate information. But nobody caught the fatal typo, and on May 2, 2006, Ms. Petrienko’s attempt to register was rejected. Lisa Oldham (whose statement is also reproduced below) is another eligible citizen whose unmatched registration was rejected. Ms. Oldham registered to vote in February 2006. Her married name is “Graham” and her driver’s license is in the name “Graham,” but her Social Security card is in her maiden name, “Oldham” – the name she used to register. She was not successfully matched. On May 2, 2006, Ms. Oldham’s registration was rejected, and she was rendered unable to vote. Ms. Petrienko and Ms. Oldham are merely examples. Many other eligible citizens were blocked from registering by the “no match, no vote” rule, and without intervention, there would have been many more following that.

Federal law requires each state to create a statewide database of registered voters, but nothing in this law requires that they adopt no match, not vote rules like the one that had been adopted in Washington. The absence of a match between data on a registration form and data held in a government computer occurs for many reasons having nothing to do with voter eligibility, including human error by government election workers, computer glitches, misspelling of names, and transposing digits in a Social Security or drivers license number. Asian Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives with names that are especially prone to multiple English spellings, or flipping of first and last names; married women who have taken hyphenated names or their husbands names but have not yet seen those changes recognized throughout the bureaucracy; and people with names containing apostrophes or hyphens were especially likely to be harmed by this law. Now, under the court’s order, even if the state is not able to find a successful “match” for those voters’ information, a voter will have ample opportunity to resolve the matching error or show some form of alternative identification in order to cast a valid ballot.

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

Selected documents can be found below. All legal documents related to the case can be found here.

District Court Papers