For Immediate Release
August 21, 2020
A federal judge has blocked the state of Indiana from purging voters from registration lists without certain federal safeguards in place to prevent eligible voters from being improperly removed.
The U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana yesterday issued a permanent injunction in Indiana NAACP and League of Women Voters of Indiana v. Lawson, prohibiting the state from implementing a law that would have allowed the state to remove any Indiana registrant from the list of eligible voters who has changed address without contacting that person directly and without providing the notice and observing the waiting period required by the National Voter Registration Act.
“If allowed to stand, this law would have led to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters, especially voters of color,” said Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the Indiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Today’s ruling is a win for democracy and racial justice in the state of Indiana.”
If they follow certain protocols, states can legitimately remove the names of ineligible individuals from registration lists to keep those lists up to date. Such removals must follow the procedures set forth by federal law that are intended to prevent purges from including eligible voters. While responsible voter list maintenance is needed and appropriate, large-scale voter purges without safeguards can result in wrongful disenfranchisement.
“Reasonable list maintenance procedures are a necessary part of election administration, but this law would almost certainly have resulted in the removal of eligible voters from the rolls,” said Linda Hanson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Indiana. “This decision protects the voters of Indiana.”
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, and Trent A. McCain of McCain Law Offices, P.C. filed a lawsuit against the state of Indiana in 2017 on behalf of the Indiana NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Indiana, challenging Senate Enrolled Act 442 (SEA 442), a 2017 law that violated the National Voter Registration Act (the “Motor Voter” law)'s protections against wrongful voter removals.
“No eligible voter should have to worry about losing the right to vote because state officials choose to disregard federal law," said Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "The National Voting Rights Act’s procedural safeguards exist for a reason: to protect the fundamental right to vote, and today’s ruling will protect many Hoosiers who would have otherwise been at risk of being disenfranchised unlawfully.”
In June 2018, a federal court blocked enforcement of SEA 442, and in 2019 the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the preliminary injunction. On March 20, 2020, Indiana enacted Senate Enrolled Act 334 (SEA 334), which amended SEA 442 but still expressly allowed purges without direct contact from the voter, and without the notice and waiting period required by the National Voter Registration Act. Today’s ruling permanently enjoins parts of SEA 334.
Case background is available here.