Growing Concern Over Recent Pressure From ‘True the Vote’ for Election Officials to Conduct Voter Removal Activities Prohibited by Federal Law
Brennan Center: Erik Opsal, 646.292.8356 firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawyers Committee: Stacie Royster, 202–662–8317, email@example.com
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Brennan Center for Justice, together with other partners of the non-partisan Michigan Election Coalition (MEC), today released the following letter sent to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson asking for transparency and fairness leading up to the upcoming election, and urging that voting rights and procedures in the state comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
Coalition partners specifically requested that a clear directive be issued to local election clerks instructing them not to send voter address confirmation mailings, which can lead to removal from the rolls, through Election Day. The NVRA requires completion of all systematic programs to remove voters from the rolls based upon change of address 90 days prior to a federal primary or general election.
The letter, sent on Friday to Secretary Johnson, cited voter address confirmation mailings received by voters in September, within the 90 day window, from local election clerks, which indicated that failure to respond to the notice may result in removal from voter rolls.
“The NVRA balances the need to keep voter registration lists up to date and accurate with a pre-election timetable that prevents last-minute purging. Election-eve purging denies eligible voters a reasonable opportunity to update or correct their registration information, or to re-register,” said Bob Kengle, Co-Director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “Despite our request in August for the Secretary of State to provide clear instructions to clerks on their NVRA responsibilities, it appears that at least some clerks have sent out address confirmation mailings within the 90-day window, threatening to remove voters from the rolls.”
MEC partners made their first request to Secretary Johnson in August 2012, when S.B. 751 was implemented. S.B. 751 requires that registered voters who are sent an address confirmation notice be placed on inactive status, and for those voters to have their ballots automatically challenged if they vote absentee. Members of the MEC were concerned that this new law would confuse local election officials and prompt them to send these confirmation mailings within the 90 day window. To date, MEC has not received a reply from Secretary Johnson in response to the August letter.
MEC’s concerns were heightened when it learned that “True the Vote” had sent letters to some 19 county clerks in Michigan threatening to sue unless each clerk purged their county’s voter rolls before the election.
“It is critical for Secretary Johnson to ensure Michigan has a free, fair, and accessible election,” said Diana Kasdan, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, “Federal law prevents these kinds of last minute removal programs. With Election Day less than four weeks away, the Secretary must provide clear guidance to local election officials and protect against these frivolous threats.”
Because address confirmation notices sent within the 90 day period have already confused voters about their registration status and may lead some—including misinformed pollworkers and challengers—to believe that these voters have lost the right to cast a ballot in the upcoming election, the letter also requests that Secretary Johnson clarify the rights of voters who have moved to cast ballots that count on Election Day.