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Indiana NAACP and League of Women Voters of Indiana v. Lawson

The Brennan Center filed a lawsuit against the State of Indiana on behalf of the Indiana NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Indiana, challenging Indiana’s voter purge statute. Federal courts preliminarily enjoined a 2017 version of Indiana law. On August 20, 2020, a federal court found that the amended version of the purge law continued to violate federal law. On July 19, 2021, the Seventh Circuit agreed and upheld the lower court’s summary judgment.

Last Updated: July 19, 2021
Published: January 14, 2019

On August 27, 2019, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the prelim­in­ary injunc­tion ruling from last year, which blocked a contro­ver­sial purge law that could have removed voters without notice. After Indi­ana amended that law in 2020, the federal district court gran­ted summary judg­ment in favor of plaintiffs and perman­ently enjoined the amended law on August 20, 2020 because the state law contin­ued to viol­ate federal law. On July 19, 2021, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s summary judg­ment ruling and remanded the case to the lower court to issue a perman­ent injunc­tion consist­ent with the court’s opin­ion.

At issue in the suit are Senate Enrolled Act 442 and Senate Enrolled Act 334, Indi­ana laws that viol­ate the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act (NVRA) by elim­in­at­ing require­ments to provide a notice and wait­ing period for a group of voters flagged as having moved out of state. On August 23, 2017, plaintiffs Indi­ana NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Indi­ana filed suit seek­ing rein­state­ment of federal protec­tions elim­in­ated by SEA 442. In June of 2018, a federal court blocked enforce­ment of SEA 442. The defend­ants later appealed the prelim­in­ary injunc­tion order to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court heard oral argu­ment on the appeal on Janu­ary 14, 2019. On August 27, 2019, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the prelim­in­ary injunc­tion.

On March 20, 2020, Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 334 (SEA 334), which amended SEA 442. However, SEA 334 still expressly allows purges without direct contact from the voter, and without the notice and wait­ing period required by the NVRA.

On July 1, 2020, the NAACP and LWV-IN filed a motion for summary judg­ment, seek­ing a perman­ent injunc­tion.

On August 20, 2020, the Court gran­ted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judg­ment and denied the state’s motion to dismiss. The Court agreed that SEA 334 viol­ates the NVRA in the same way as SEA 442 did because it permits removal without direct contact with the voter and without the Notice-and-Wait­ing period. As a result, the Court perman­ently enjoined Defend­ants from imple­ment­ing Sections 5.5(d)–(f) of SEA 334 and prohib­ited Defend­ants from other­wise remov­ing any Indi­ana regis­trant from the list of eligible voters because of a change in resid­ence absent: (1) a request or confirm­a­tion in writ­ing directly from the voter that the voter is ineligible or does not wish to be registered; or (2) the NVRA-prescribed process of (a) noti­fy­ing the voter, (b) giving the voter an oppor­tun­ity to respond, and (c) then wait­ing two inact­ive federal elec­tion cycles.

On Septem­ber 21, 2020, defend­ants noticed their appeal of the district court’s August 20th judg­ment and the Seventh Circuit heard oral argu­ments on April 22, 2021.

On July 19, 2021, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s summary judg­ment ruling, find­ing that SEA 334 contin­ued to viol­ate the NVRA, and was there­fore pree­mp­ted by federal law. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the lower court, direct­ing that the lower court issue a perman­ent injunc­tion consist­ent with the NVRA’s require­ment that Indi­ana must either receive a commu­nic­a­tion gener­ated by the voter, or under­take the NVRA-mandated notice-and-wait­ing process, before the state may cancel a voter’s regis­tra­tion.

Back­ground:

Voter purges, the process by which states remove the names of supposedly ineligible indi­vidu­als from regis­tra­tion lists, can sweep in eligible voters if done improp­erly. While respons­ible voter list main­ten­ance is neces­sary and appro­pri­ate, larges­cale voter purges without safe­guards can result in wrong­ful disen­fran­chise­ment. Neces­sary safe­guards include compli­ance with the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act of 1993, also known as motor-voter. Among other require­ments, the NVRA provides that before voters can be removed because of change of resid­ence, they must either confirm that they have moved or receive a mailed notice that they are going to be removed, fail to respond, and fail to vote in two consec­ut­ive federal elec­tions. Voter purges also risk remov­ing eligible voters if elec­tion offi­cials use bad data (or use data in a sloppy manner) in their attempt to identify ineligible voters.

SEA 442 relied on the now-defunct Crosscheck program to identify ineligible voters, even though Crosscheck had been proven to be unre­li­able as the sole basis for identi­fy­ing and remov­ing voters who may have moved. When Crosscheck, which was admin­istered by the Kansas Secret­ary of State, was used for a 2013 Virginia voter purge, 40,000 registered voters were removed from the rolls prior to a statewide elec­tion, even though local elec­tion offi­cials found error rates as high as 17 percent. Moreover, accord­ing to a 2016 analysis, minor­it­ies were more likely than white voters to be flagged for removal in Crosscheck. 

SEA 334 voided Indi­ana’s agree­ment with the Kansas Secret­ary of State and mandated Indi­ana’s with­drawal from Crosscheck. However, in Crosscheck’s place, SEA 334 estab­lished the Indi­ana Data Enhance­ment Asso­ci­ation (“IDEA”), an organ­iz­a­tion func­tion­ally identical to Crosscheck that receives member states’ voter lists and returns purpor­ted matches.

Plaintiffs are repres­en­ted by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sulli­van, LLP, and Trent A. McCain of McCain Law Offices, P.C.

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