Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the nation’s attention once again turned to voting rights issues. O’Melveny has been at the forefront of major voting rights cases well before this last election season and continues work in this increasingly critical area of our democracy.
Protecting Voter Access to 2016 Election Sites. O’Melveny lawyers participated in a number of pro bono initiatives in connection with the 2016 presidential election. Many of the firm’s lawyers participated in the Election Protection project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter-protection coalition, which aims to assist voters across the country, especially in traditionally disenfranchised communities. O’Melveny lawyers deployed to election sites and staffed the Election Protection hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, to provide assistance to voters with questions or those trying to report problems with voting. A team of O’Melveny lawyers also assisted the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund with a pro bono research project focused on problems experienced by voters during the election and other issues identified on intake forms completed by poll monitors.
Securing Victory in Key Kansas and Arizona Voting Rights Case. O’Melveny won a resounding victory in the Tenth Circuit, securing important voting rights in Kansas and Arizona in a joint effort with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Officials in those states filed suit in Kansas federal court seeking to modify federal voter registration forms to require documentary proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, to be allowed to register to vote in federal elections. Seeking to prevent the erosion of voting rights, O’Melveny and MALDEF intervened in the district court on behalf of several civil rights organizations. Because the plaintiff states pursued the case on an expedited basis, hanging their claims of irreparable harm on unsupported allegations of voter fraud, the O’Melveny team had to tackle weighty issues of voting rights, statutory construction, constitutional law, and separations of powers under extraordinary time pressure. After the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, O’Melveny and MALDEF appealed and achieved a complete victory in the Tenth Circuit, which unanimously reversed the district court’s decision and found that the Election Assistance Commission acted appropriately in denying the states’ request to modify the federal voter registration form. The triumph was underscored by the US Supreme Court, which denied Kansas and Arizona’s petition for certiorari in June 2015. As a result of this work, Kansas and Arizona now must allow citizens to register to vote in federal elections using the federal voter registration form, and cannot require those citizens to show a birth certificate or passport.