When Allison Mullins, a freshman at Marshall University, tried to change her voter registration to Cabell County, she went online to fill out the form. But shortly after, she received a letter in the mail from the Cabell County Clerk's office asking her to mail in a paper registration form instead. Mullins said the lack of an online registration option in her county is not only inconvenient, but also misleading to those who registered online to vote in Cabell County.
"I think this is an important election coming up, so I think people should have an easy way to register," Mullins said. "A lot of people can't get out of their houses. So they think they have everything accomplished, but when they go out to vote, they can't vote."
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, or the ACLU, filed a lawsuit against Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole on behalf of Mullins this week. It's not the first time that Cole has come under fire for her no-online voter registration policy. Before the primary in May, the ACLU sued her for the same reason, though ultimately the state Supreme Court rejected that lawsuit.
After that first lawsuit, she told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that online voter registration was more prone to voter fraud than a physical form is. She did not respond to requests for comments this time.
"The issue that we have is when we receive the information over the Secretary of State's online voter registration program, is that it doesn't provide us with all the information that the law requires that we have to have in order to register a voter," she said in the spring.
The ACLU takes issue with that.
"Interestingly, if you use the online system you actually need to provide even more personal information than you do if you register using the mail-in card," said Jamie Lynn Crofts, the legal director for the ACLU of West Virginia. "If you fill out a paper application, you only need either a driver license or state ID number, or the last four digits of your social security number. And if you use the online system, you need both."
The ACLU worries that that fewer people are registering to vote in Cabell County because registering in person is not as convenient as registering online. The lawsuit alleges that Cole’s refusal to accept online registrations violates the 14th Amendment.
"The 14th Amendment has both an equal protection requirement and a due process requirement. And when it comes to voting cases, those two really merge together," Crofts said. "Voting is such a fundamental right that you can't have it be different based on where in a state a person lives."
The ACLU hopes that the outcome of the suit will be that voters who only registered online will still be able to cast a ballot on Election Day.