Working with Voting Rights Advocates, Ropes & Gray Reaches Final Settlement with Mass. Agencies to Ensure Voter Registration Services

In The News
June 18, 2015

A Ropes & Gray litigation team working on a pro bono basis with voting rights advocates has reached a final settlement with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (SOC), the Massachusetts Office of Medicaid (MassHealth), and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to correct systemic violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Earlier, in April 2015, a settlement was reached with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). 

Section 7 of the NVRA mandates that state public assistance agencies offer voter registration services to eligible citizens. Based on the Commonwealth’s failures to comply with this federal mandate, in May 2012, plaintiffs, NAACP-New England Area Conference and New England United for Justice, filed suit against DTA, EOHHS and the SOC. MassHealth was added as a defendant in 2014.

The suit alleged that these agencies were not complying with federal requirements to provide voter registration opportunities and assistance to low-income individuals each time they applied for or sought to renew their benefits or change addresses.  Despite an interim agreement with DTA in July 2012, litigation continued in January 2013, with expansive discovery and heated motions practice.  After extensive negotiations, plaintiffs reached a settlement with DTA in April 2015 and separate settlements with MassHealth/EOHHS and the SOC on June 16, 2015.  The settlement agreements detail a comprehensive overhaul of these public assistance agencies’ voter registration services to over 1.3 million low-income individuals in Massachusetts, and implement training, monitoring, and reporting requirements. 

On June 17, 2015, United States District Judge Denise J. Casper entered an Order of Final Judgment based on the settlement agreements, agreeing to retain jurisdiction over the three-year term of the settlements to adjudicate noncompliance motions and resolve disputes.

IP litigation partner Ken Felter is lead trial counsel and leads the Ropes & Gray team, which includes business & securities litigation associates Dee FitzGerald, Bil Davison, Alexia De Vincentis, and senior litigation paralegal Susan Lake (all of Boston).  In addition to Ropes & Gray, plaintiffs are represented by voting rights groups Dēmos, Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.