Sessions’ DOJ Reverses Course on Texas Voter ID Law

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Editor’s Note: Today we bring you some news from nonpartisan nonprofit Common Cause. The following comes from the group’s website. It is a statement from Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas about a recent action by the U.S. Department of Justice. We will keep you posted about voter ID laws around the country. Stay tuned for more.

The right to vote is a keystone of our democracy but Texas’ voter ID law intentionally stripped hundreds of thousands of Texans of that right. Today, the U.S. Department of Justice reversed course; instead of fighting the discriminatory law, it is pulling away from its previous opposition, turning its back on the hundreds of thousands of Texans who simply don’t have the kind of ID required by the strictest photo ID law in the land.

When you choose an unrepentant critic of the Voting Rights Act to lead the Department of Justice, more and more Americans will lose their right to vote. This about-face by Jeff Sessions’ DOJ is exactly the type of action Common Cause warned of when it opposed Sessions’ nomination to serve as U.S. Attorney General. Jeff Sessions’ see-no-evil posture on voting rights abuses naively lets discrimination stand – and flies in the face of a representative democracy.

 

Ohio Investigation Uncovers Non-Citizens Who Registered to Vote, Illegally Cast Ballots

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today announced that his office has identified an additional 385 non-citizens registered to vote in Ohio, 82 of whom have been identified as having voted in at least one election. This brings the total number of non-citizens on Ohio’s voter rolls Secretary Husted has been able to identify using available resources to 821, with 126 of those individuals having actually cast ballots.

Secretary Husted is the first of the Ohio’s chief elections officials to initiate a review of Ohio’s Statewide Registered Voter Database (SWRVD) to identify non-citizens on the voter rolls. This is the third review Secretary Husted’s administration has conducted.

“In light of the national discussion about illegal voting it is important to inform our discussions with facts. The fact is voter fraud happens, it is rare and when it happens, we hold people accountable,” Secretary Husted said.

As Secretary Husted has done following similar reviews of the SWRVD in 2013 and 2015, those 82 non-citizens that are registered to vote and have cast ballots will be immediately referred to state and federal law enforcement officials for further investigation and possible prosecution.

The 303 registered voters identified as non-citizens who have not cast a ballot will be sent letters both informing them that non-citizens are not eligible to vote and requesting that they cancel their registration. A follow-up letter will be sent to any individuals that still remain on the rolls after 30 days. Any non-citizens identified that remain on the rolls after being contacted twice will then be referred to state and federal law enforcement officials.

The Secretary of State’s office has been able to identify these non-citizens on the rolls using information provided by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) as applicants are required to provide documentation of their legal presence with their application for a state identification or drivers’ license. The non-citizens were identified by the Secretary of State’s Office using a double confirmation process, which requires a registered voter to have provided documentation to the BMV themselves indicating that they are a non-U.S. Citizen two times before being flagged.

While the process Secretary Husted has implemented using information provided by the BMV has been helpful in working to maintain and protect Ohio’s voter rolls, there are likely additional non-citizens in the SWRVD given the lack of access to more real-time data maintained by the federal government. In February and July of 2015, Secretary wrote then-President Barack Obama requesting that the states be given real-time access to accurate, searchable, electronic databases of non-citizens who have valid Social Security numbers so that they may distinguish between citizens and lawfully-present non-citizens. That same year, Secretary Husted also testified before a congressional committee about how this type of data can be used by the states to properly maintain their respective voter rolls. In the coming weeks, Secretary Husted plans to renew his call for access to this information.

“I have a responsibility to preserve the integrity of Ohio’s elections system,” Secretary Husted said. “When you consider that in Ohio we have had 112 elections decided by one vote or tied in the last three years, every case of illegal voting must be taken seriously and elections officials must have every resource available to them to respond accordingly.”

It should be noted, that none of the cases where a non-citizen is shown to have cast a ballot occurred in jurisdictions where an election was decided by one vote or tied.

Federal Judge Sanctions State in “Motor Voter” Law Case

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The U.S. District Court For the Western District Of Texas recently ordered sanctions against the state of Texas for undue delay in our “motor voter” case, Stringer v. Pablos.

On January 24, the Texas Civil Rights Project, with co-counsel at Waters Kraus LLP, submitted a Motion to Sanction the state for repeatedly, and without justification, ignoring a federal court’s order to provide the necessary documents to move forward with the case.

In his sanctions order, U.S. District Court Judge Orlando L. Garcia found that the state’s months long delay to produce the needed documents has been disruptive, time consuming, cost consuming. The Court also found that the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Texas willfully disregarded court-ordered deadlines.

The state must now incur the reasonable expense in bringing forth the motion to compel and motion to sanction. It must also cover court reporter fees, travel expenses, and attorney’s fees.

Beth Stevens, Voting Rights Director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“Every election cycle, tens of thousands of Texas voters are being arbitrarily shut out of the electoral system, due to the state’s unwillingness to comply with federal voting rights law.

Our litigation is about making sure every voter can cast a ballot that counts.  It is critical that these issues be resolved well before the 2018 election and we will continue to work diligently to push the lawsuit forward. Today’s order is a strong sign the the Court also recognizes the important issues at stake.”

What You Need to Know About PA’s Upcoming Redistricting Reform Bill

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With so much of the national—and state—spotlight on fair elections, everyone here at Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections wanted to ensure that you were keeping redistricting reform efforts on your radar.

Here in Pennsylvania, Sen. Lisa Boscola is one of a handful of lawmakers on the forefront of redistricting reform in the Keystone State.

To stay updated on the issue, bookmark a recently launched webpage on her website—one devoted entirely to the subject of creating an independent citizens commission.

She is also currently seeking co-sponsors for an associated bill. Here’s more from Sen. Boscola’s website:

In the near future, we intend to introduce legislation that will amend our state’s constitution to reform the way that legislative and congressional districts in Pennsylvania are re-drawn.

For our government to work as it is intended, it must contain checks and balances. Yet our state’s current system empowers lawmakers to draw the very districts that they represent. This constitutes a troubling conflict of interest, and we must address it before the next round of redistricting is triggered in 2020.

This joint resolution provides for a Redistricting Commission that is solely comprised of independent citizens. Individuals that apply to serve would go through a process for appointment that includes a series of random selections by lot.

Based on statewide voter registration numbers, this independent citizens’ Commission will be comprised of:
4 individuals registered with the largest political party in the state;
4 individuals registered with the second-largest political party in the state; and
3 individuals with affiliations that are not of either of the two largest parties.

Under the legislation, the Commission is required to develop a preliminary plan for Congressional and state legislative districts. After a series of public hearings across the state, the Commission will either approve or disapprove of the plan. In order for a plan to be approved, it must receive seven votes, with at least one vote coming from each of the Commission’s subgroups.

The state of California authorized a similar commission in 2008 with the authority to conduct legislative and congressional redistricting. Independent citizen-based commissions have been upheld in states such as Arizona, while incumbent-drawn maps continue to be challenged across the country. The aim of this bill is to produce a redistricting process in our Commonwealth that truly reflects the essence of our democracy – voters selecting their representatives, not the other way around.

This bill is similar to Senator Boscola’s SB 484 of the previous session. We invite you to join as a co-sponsor. Please call Julie Carraghan at 787-4236 in Senator Boscola’s office, or Christine Zubeck at 787-6123 in Senator Scavello’s office, with questions.

 

Reps Call on Trump to Investigate Voter Suppression in Presidential Election

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U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), and 75 other members of Congress sent a letter recently calling on President Trump to investigate voter suppression in the 2016 Presidential election as part of any investigation he conducts into voting irregularities.

The members noted that he recently signaled he would use taxpayer dollars to conduct an investigation into the voter fraud myth. The Members asked that any investigation into irregularities also include a complete examination of voter suppression and disenfranchisement, including the possible impact of new restrictive state voting laws that last year were in effect for the first time in a presidential election.

“Every American deserves a voice in our elections and the freedom to cast their vote without interference,” the Members wrote in the letter to President Trump. “These restrictive laws and intimidation tactics make clear that it is time to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act and counter voter disenfranchisement. We hope to work together with you to remedy widespread voter disenfranchisement across our country.”

In a 2014 ruling, a federal court in Wisconsin found that over 300,000 registered voters in the state did not have the proper ID needed to vote because of a law signed by the Governor. In another ruling in 2014, a federal court found that over 600,000 registered voters in Texas at the time did not have the voter ID that the state newly required to vote.  North Carolina has eliminated same-day voter registration and cut off an entire week of early voting. In Florida, a law bars anyone with a felony from voting unless they go to the state capital and request clemency. A total of 14 states had restrictive new voting laws in place for the first time in a presidential election last year.

The full text of the letter reads as follows.

Dear President Trump:

We write regarding your recent call for an investigation into alleged voter fraud in the 2016 Presidential election.  As an initial matter, claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 Presidential election are largely unsubstantiated.  Inquiries conducted thus far have not revealed any evidence of widespread voter fraud, nor is there is evidence substantiating your claim that “3 to 5 million illegal votes” were responsible for Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win.  Nevertheless, we are writing to demand that any investigation your Administration conducts into voter irregularities in the 2016 Presidential election include a thorough investigation and analysis of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. 

Our nation’s history on voting rights is checkered, and the systemic disenfranchisement of low-income and minority voters is longstanding and well documented.  In fact, it was not until 600 people marched through Selma, Alabama in 1965 that Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.  It is now 52 years later and the battle is far from over. 

In 2013, the Supreme Court effectively dismantled the Voting Rights Act when it struck down a section of the law that required jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination to receive “preclearance” before changing their voting laws.  The result is 14 new state laws implementing voting restrictions that went into effect for the first time in 2016.  These new laws include roadblocks such as strict photo ID requirements, early voting cutbacks, and registration restrictions.  Three states with new voter restrictions—Florida, North Carolina, and Alabama—have demonstrated histories of voter disenfranchisement and were monitored by the Department of Justice for illegal electioneering.  The breadth of the disenfranchisement caused by statewide voting restrictions is personified in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida.

  • Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law has been the subject of extensive litigation.  Although a federal court held that the law unconstitutionally burdened low-income individuals and minorities, the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect for the 2016 election.  According to Wisconsin’s records, as many as 300,000 people? lacked the proper ID and may have been prevented from voting.  Statewide, turnout for the 2016 Presidential election was the lowest it has been in two decades.
  • North Carolina’s law included strict voter ID requirements, eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, and barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precincts.  A federal court struck most of the law after finding it suppressed African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”  Despite this ruling, early voting hours and locations were curtailed during the 2016 Presidential election.  African-American turnout for the early vote dropped nearly nine percent.
  •  Florida law bars anyone with a felony conviction from voting unless they travel to the state capital and request clemency—a burdensome requirement for those that cannot afford to travel to the state capital.  Approximately 1.5 million Florida residents are unable to vote because of the law, and approximately 25 percent of Florida’s African-American residents could not cast a ballot in the 2016 Presidential election. 

In addition to passing harsh laws, states like Alabama are closing driver’s license offices in rural areas with large African-American populations, while states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida are moving polling places out of largely minority districts.  Incidents of voter intimidation have also occurred, like the one in Sparta, Georgia, when more than 180 African-American citizens were confronted by law enforcement officers that were dispatched by the local election board.  These citizens, all American voters, were told they had to appear in person in order to prove they were a resident and could vote in upcoming elections.

This is unacceptable.  Every American deserves a voice in our elections and the freedom to cast their vote without interference.  These restrictive laws and intimidation tactics make clear that it is time to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act and counter voter disenfranchisement.  We hope to work together with you to remedy widespread voter disenfranchisement across our country.

Sincerely,

Hey Pennsylvania, Meet Jerry Mandering

Editor’s Note: We wanted to bring you a message from Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan nonprofit with which we are affiliated. The subject? Gerrymandering and Jerry Mandering.

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We are happy to announce PA Message from Jerry Mandering, a short video created in partnership with redistricting reform groups in several other states. Share it as widely as you can and encourage others you know to join us in our public education efforts.

Senators Lisa Boscola (D-District 18) and Mario Scavello (R- District 40) continue to gather co-sponsors for Senate Bill 22, an amendment of the PA Constitution which would create an independent citizens commission with strong standards for transparency and prohibitions against use of partisan data. Senator Boscola recently created a redistricting page on her website with links to a description of the bill and to a memorandum of endorsement. That site will have a link to the bill as soon as it’s introduced.

We are encouraging calls, letters and visits to our state senators asking them to co-sponsor SB 22. On our updated Contact Your Legislator page you can find links to a sample letter, talking points, a spreadsheet showing current co-sponsors and other helpful materials.

If you’re planning a visit to your legislator, we’ve created a form you can use to request more detailed information. Another form provides room to report back anything you think would be helpful.  Both can be accessed through links on the Contact Your Legislator page.

Spotlight: Voting Advocates Announce a Settlement of “Exact Match” Lawsuit in Georgia

 

Tlaw-1063249_960_720he Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Project Vote, Campaign Legal Center, Voting Rights Institute at the Georgetown University Law Center, along with the New York City office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP and Atlanta-based firm of Caplan Cobb LLP, acting as pro bono counsel, announced a settlement recently in a lawsuit filed on behalf Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, which challenged Georgia’s exact-match voter registration verification scheme.

The suit alleged Georgia’s “exact match” system violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and deprived eligible Georgians of their fundamental right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and resulted in Georgia restoring more than 42,000 previously purged voters to the rolls.

The complaint, which was filed in September 2016 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, concerned Georgia’s voter registration verification process. Since 2010, Georgia required all of the letters and numbers in the applicant’s name, date of birth, driver’s license number or last four digits of the Social Security number to exactly match the information in the state’s Department of Drivers Service (DDS) or Social Security Administration (SSA) databases. If even a single letter, number, hyphen, space, or apostrophe did not exactly match the database information, and the applicant failed to correct the mismatch within 40 days, the application was automatically rejected and the applicant was not placed on the registration rolls – even if they were eligible to vote.

This flawed process led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of applications from eligible applicants, with African American, Latino, and Asian American applicants being rejected at rates significantly higher than White applicants. For example, of the approximately 34,874 voter registration applicants whose applications were cancelled between July 2013 and July 15, 2016, approximately 22,189 (63.6 percent) identified as Black, 2,752 (7.9 percent) identified as Latino, 1,665 (4.8 percent) identified as Asian-American, and 4,748 (13.6 percent) identified as White.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Secretary of State agreed to implement reforms to help ensure that eligible Georgians will no longer be denied the right to register and vote as a result of data entry errors, typos and other database matching issues that do not bear upon the applicant’s eligibility to vote. Some of the reforms agreed to by the Secretary of State pursuant to the terms of the settlement include:

  • Georgia will no longer automatically cancel voter registration applications where the information on the application fails to exactly match the applicant’s data on the Georgia Department of Drivers Services (DDS) or Social Security Administration (SSA) databases;
  • If the data on a voter registration application fails to exactly match data on the DDS or SSA databases, applicants will be added to the rolls as “pending,” with no deadline to correct the mismatch;
  • Such registrants will be able to present their Georgia driver’s license, State ID card or other forms of appropriate ID at the polling place and be able to cast a ballot;
  • In cases where the applicant is a U.S. citizen, but the DDS database contains an error or out of date information showing the applicant is not a citizen, those individuals will be able to show proof of their citizenship – up to and including on Election Day – to complete the registration process and cast a ballot.
  • The full details can be found in the settlement agreement here.

These reforms, which were partly implemented before the November 8, 2016 general election, gave more than 42,000 of previously disqualified applicants, who were otherwise eligible to vote, an opportunity to complete the registration process and cast a ballot.

The settlement will also result in giving thousands of additional applicants, whose applications were rejected as a result of the “exact match” system between October 1, 2013 and October 1, 2014, the opportunity to now finalize their voter registration and be able to cast ballots in this year’s elections and elections in the future.

“Our democracy depends on the ability of all voters to participate in the political process,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “Today’s victory ensures that tens of thousands of voters will not be disenfranchised by Georgia’s “no match, no vote” policy, which had a particularly onerous effect on minorities and the poor.  We will continue to use the Voting Rights Act as a tool to combat voting discrimination and to achieve fairer and more democratic outcomes across our country.”

“Asian Americans are the fastest growing immigrant population in Georgia. Our communities are naturalizing in increasing numbers, and we will continue to see more New Americans exercise their right to vote,” said Stephanie Cho, executive director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta.  “We are pleased that this decision increases access to voting for immigrants and people of color.”

“The fundamental right to vote should never hinge on data entry errors and technicalities. Our systems can and must do better,” said Danielle Lang, deputy director of Voting Rights at the Campaign Legal Center. “Thanks to this settlement, and our partners who led this effort, tens of thousands of eligible Georgia voters will be restored to the rolls.”

“This settlement is an important recognition that as sacred as the vote may be in democracy; the vote cannot protect itself,” said Francys Johnson, Georgia NAACP President.  “This is not the work of government alone.  It takes a vigilance from engaged citizens to protect and defend our fundamental values.  These reforms at the heart of this settlement are strong indications that our democracy works.”

“This case illustrates the importance of careful, sensible registration procedures,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, election counsel for Project Vote. “No American citizen should be denied their fundamental right to vote because of discriminatory practices or bureaucratic mistakes.”

“This settlement brings an end to Georgia’s onerous exact match requirement and instills important protections for voters in our state,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda.  “Voters deserve an election system that enables participation, not one that creates barriers and forces voters to jump through unnecessary hoops.”

Reform Groups File Amicus Brief Defending Law Limiting Corrupt ‘Soft-Money’ Contributions to State and Local Parties

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Democracy 21 joined with Public Citizen and the Campaign Legal Center in filing an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of contribution limits to state and local parties used for federal electioneering purposes, established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).

Before BCRA’s enactment, state parties could use unlimited contributions, commonly known as “soft money,” to pay for various activities that benefited candidates for federal office. Large donors, including corporations, would route contributions to state parties to buy influence over federal officeholders. BCRA ended that practice, and the Supreme Court upheld BCRA’s ban on soft money as a legitimate anti-corruption measure in its 2003 decision in McConnell v. FEC and again in 2010 in Republican National Committee v. FEC (RNC).

The brief explains that limits on contributions to state parties are essential safeguards against corruption of the federal candidates whom the state parties support and with whom they are closely tied. The brief argues that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions left McConnell’s and RNC’s soft-money holdings and anti-corruption rationale untouched.

On Nov. 7, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a unanimous ruling upholding the soft money provisions. The opinion largely adopted the analysis of a brief filed by the three groups in the lower court. The groups are urging the Supreme Court to summarily affirm the lower court’s judgment.

National Civil Rights Organization Mounts First Major Federal Voting Rights Lawsuit of 2017 in North Carolina

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A federal voting rights lawsuit challenging the election scheme in a North Carolina county was filed this week in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina

The complaint was brought on behalf of voters in Jones County, North Carolina by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with law firms Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Patterson Harkavy LLP.  The lawsuit alleges that the county’s method of electing its Board of Commissioners—the five-member body that makes critical and wide-ranging decisions impacting Jones County residents—dilutes the voting strength of its African American voters, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  Because the county employs an “at-large” system, all Commissioners are elected county-wide.  In Jones County, voting remains racially polarized and white voters historically vote as a bloc to defeat candidates of choice supported by the African American community.  As a result, African American voters have not been able to elect a candidate of their choice to the Board of Commissioners since 1994, though they comprise nearly a third of the county’s voting-age population.  The result, according to the complaint, is the “systemic neglect” of the needs of African Americans in Jones County.

To remedy the violation of voting rights in Jones County, the lawsuit seeks to change the election scheme for the Board of Commissioners from an at-large system to one that provides for single-member voting districts.  The proposed alternative districts would include one in which African Americans would comprise a majority of voters, giving them a fair opportunity to elect a member of the Board of Commissioners and have a voice in the affairs of Jones County.

“This case marks the first major federal voting rights lawsuit filed in 2017 and makes clear that voting discrimination is alive and well in North Carolina,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “Racially polarized voting persists in Jones County, North Carolina and as a result, African Americans have not been able to elect a candidate of choice to the county’s board of commissioners in more than 20 years.  While some politicians circulate baseless allegations of vote fraud, this case makes clear the real barriers to democracy that we continue to face today.  We will continue to use the Voting Rights Act as a tool to combat discrimination to safeguard the rights of African American voters in Jones County, North Carolina and other parts of the nation.”

“It is critical for us to defend our democracy by ensuring that elections are free and fair and that all voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” said Jonathan I.  Blackman, partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.  “Vote dilution is just as unacceptable to a healthy democracy as voter suppression and gerrymandering.”

“The at-large election system excludes African Americans from service on the Jones County Board of Commissioners, and denies African American voters the chance to elect their chosen candidates,” said Burton Craige, a Raleigh lawyer with the civil rights firm Patterson Harkavy, LLP.  “All residents of Jones County, black and white, deserve to have a voice in their local government.”

North Carolina has been a familiar and contested battleground for these issues.  In 2016 a panel of three federal judges found that the state’s legislative map had been corrupted by unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. Another panel of federal judges ruled in 2016 that the North Carolina state legislature violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act when it enacted numerous restrictions suppressing the ability of African-Americans to vote.  The court roundly criticized the state’s “shameful history” of discrimination and observed that the measures—which included a new voter ID law and restrictions on early voting—targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

The University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights provided critical support in the matter.

To read the full complaint, please click here.

Demos, Project Vote Partner with Hogan Lovells to Help Prevent Unlawful Voter Purge in Philly

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This week, voting rights groups Demos and Project Vote urged a federal appeals court to uphold a decision dismissing an attempt by the so-called “American Civil Rights Union” (ACRU) to force the City of Philadelphia to conduct an unnecessary purge of its voter rolls. In an amicus curiae brief prepared by the law firm Hogan Lovells, filed in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the groups argue that ACRU’s attempt to turn the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) on its head, to force a voter purge targeting people with felony convictions, is legally untenable and will result in countless eligible Philadelphia voters being disenfranchised.

The ACRU has asserted that the NVRA and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) require Philadelphia City Commissioners to strike voters incarcerated for a felony from the voter rolls. In the brief, the voting rights groups strongly refute this assertion, as Pennsylvania state law does not strip these individuals of their right to stay registered. Pennsylvania law, in fact, permits individuals convicted of a felony to vote immediately upon release from incarceration, without having to re-register, and indeed permits them to register from prison if they are going to be released before the next election. The NVRA and HAVA explicitly defer to state law on the question of the effect of criminal conviction on voter registration and eligibility, and do not require the Commissioners to disregard clearly established state law, Hogan Lovells argues in the brief.

In addition to being legally dubious, ACRU’s requested purge is bad policy, and inconsistent with congressional intent in adopting the NVRA and HAVA. The brief cites multiple studies demonstrating that efforts to purge individuals with felony convictions from the voting rolls have resulted in the disenfranchisement of large numbers of eligible voters. Voters have been wrongfully purged—often without notice—just because their names happened to be similar to those of convicted felons. Election officials have frequently relied on false or inaccurate records, or haphazardly removed people with criminal convictions without checking to see whether their right to vote had been restored in accordance with state law.

“The bedrock principle of our democracy is the freedom to vote,” said Scott Novakowski, counsel at Demos. “The American Civil Rights Union’s baseless lawsuit, directed at a city in which a majority of the residents are people of color, is nothing more than an attempt to strip voters of this most basic civil right. Rather than adding barriers to vote, we should be removing them to ensure the diverse voices of America are heard loud and clear. Pennsylvania has decided that individuals with felony convictions are nevertheless entitled to have a voice in their government. Under the NVRA, that decision must be respected.”

“The ACRU’s case is trying to turn the NVRA—a law meant to protect eligible voters—on its head, in order to unlawfully take the right to vote away from eligible Americans who have paid their debt to society,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, election counsel with Project Vote. “Studies and experience show that voter purges targeting individuals with felony convictions disenfranchise eligible voters, and disproportionately rob communities of color of their voice.”

“In their lawsuit, the American Civil Rights Union misconstrues the governing federal laws in an effort to make it more difficult for people to vote, especially people of color,” said Ira Feinberg, a partner at Hogan Lovells. “The NVRA was intended to put the brakes on state voter purges to ensure that eligible voters were not erroneously removed from the rolls, but the ACRU is seeking to push the accelerator to the floor. That is not what federal law requires or permits.”

The case, American Civil Rights Union v. Philadelphia City Commissioners, No. 16-3811, is currently pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals based in Philadelphia. The case was filed in April 2016 and subsequently dismissed in September 2016 by Judge C. Darnell Jones, II, of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.