Common Cause Indiana, fresh off a federal court victory in a lawsuit over early voting sites in Marion County, has prevailed in blocking implementation of Indiana's 2017 voter registration law. It's a big win, according to Common Cause Policy Director Julia Vaughn, as it blocks the state from purging eligible voters without giving them written notice.
Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled Common Cause and other plaintiffs have a “high likelihood of success on the merits” of their claim that the law violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, established to protect voters from being removed from registration rolls improperly. The judge granted a preliminary injunction, prohibiting state election officials from implementing Senate Enrolled Act 442 while the lawsuit works its way through the court.
“While the defendants have a strong public interest in protecting the integrity of voter registration rolls and the electoral process, they have other procedures in place that can protect that public interest that do not violate the NVRA,” Pratt wrote.
In response to the ruling, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson issued a statement saying her office is reviewing its options. She also noted no voter has ever come forward who was incorrectly removed from the list.
Of course, there's scant evidence of voter fraud in Indiana, but that hasn't stopped legislative efforts to restrict ballot access. As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman notes on the following page, voter purges are becoming the suppression method of choice.
The preliminary injunction likely will prevent Hoosiers from being improperly purged from voter rolls because the new law depended on the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck system.
Developed and administered by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Crosscheck allows a state to immediately remove voters identified as having registered to vote in another state. And it fails frequently. Let's say a “Joseph Gonzalez” born on April 2 registers to vote in Colorado – a Joseph Gonzalez with the same birthdate could be kicked off another state's voter rolls.
“A statistical analysis of the program published earlier this year by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and Microsoft, for instance, found that Crosscheck 'would eliminate about 200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one registration used to cast a double vote,' ” the Washington Post reported last year.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Monday validated voter purge efforts in Ohio, but Common Cause's Vaughn said she doesn't believe it will affect the outcome of the Indiana lawsuit.
“The (Ohio) case is narrowly focused on the purging of infrequent voters and our case was more about how the process of purging is done,” she wrote in an email. “While I think that the Ohio case might encourage the state to appeal because they believe they might get a friendlier panel higher up the judicial food chain, I'm not sure an appeal will be successful.”
With dismal voter turnout occurring election after election, public officials should be doing everything possible to facilitate voting, not looking for ways to turn voters away. The district court's ruling on the preliminary injunction will ensure eligible voters can exercise their constitutional right on Nov. 6.