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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, August 29, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

Ballot boxed

Restrictive registration rules slapped down

Many Americans don't take voting as seriously as they should. Though voter participation rose impressively in last year's election, half the nation's eligible voters – and a bit more than half in Indiana – still stayed home. Repeated warnings about foreign disinformation and interference in elections have elicited little more than a collective shrug. And so far, Indiana seems less than inspired by the opportunity the 2020 census offers to redraw unbalanced voting districts.

But one election-related concern has always gotten attention in this state. The potential that some voter, somewhere, will sneak in an extra vote. Never mind that the problem of double-voting is somewhere between extremely rare and nonexistent.

You would think the state's trailblazing voter-ID law would have been enough to keep it that way. But even before a strong voter-purge law was passed in 2017, Indiana was using a dubious multistate system to expunge voters from its rolls at an unusually high rate.

The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck, developed and administered by Kansas' secretary of state, compares the names and birthdates of registered voters and notifies Indiana and other participating states if a match is found. But the system is far from foolproof and tends to flag minorities. For example, a quarter of the Hispanic population shares just 26 surnames, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Indiana had been using Crosscheck as part of a process of challenging questionable voting registration that adhered to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. That law requires states to seek to contact voters and to wait two federal election cycles before striking them from the rolls. The 2017 law would have allowed county election officials to strike voters from the rolls immediately, without attempting to contact them.

That was a problem, as the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted in a ruling Tuesday affirming a lower court's preliminary injunction against implementing the new rules.

It was a major victory for Common Cause Indiana and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which brought the lawsuit.

In the 35-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Diane Wood said Indiana had made a faulty assumption that the discovery of multiple registrations entitled officials to assume a voter intended to cancel his or her registration here.

“Registering to vote in another state is not the same as a request for removal from Indiana's voting rolls,” Wood wrote. “Indiana equates double registration with double voting. But the two are quite different.”

For instance, the judge wrote, “every year millions of Americans go off to college in August. Some drop out by November, for academic, financial, or other reasons, and land back on their parents' doorsteps. They will vote in only one place, even if they have open registrations in two. The only way to know whether voters want to cancel their registration is to ask them.”

Common Cause Indiana's Julia Vaughn was pleased but not surprised by the court's decision. “This is really pretty clear,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “You can't skip over major portions of the (federal) law.

“We certainly don't want to put administrative barriers in place so that when voters show up they find out they're not on the list.”

Common Cause favors clean voter lists, too, she said, but her organization would emphasize positive educational campaigns to get voters who move to cancel their old registration.

Indiana could decide to challenge the Seventh Circuit's decision. “The state,” Vaughn said, “is pretty free-spending when it comes to voter suppression.” Or it could save the energy and resources it would expend further defending a badly flawed law and even consider directing them toward a real need – encouraging higher voter participation.