Civil Rights Groups Launch National Effort to Combat Alarming Voter Purge Attempt

November 22, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, leading national civil rights organizations are urging state and county election officials in jurisdictions across the country to reject the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s (PILF) coordinated attempt to launch a wide-scale voter purge effort across the country. Using deceptive tactics promoting voter suppression, and urging actions that could in fact violate the legal requirements of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), PILF’s action has created an immediate need for clarification. In response the coalition of organizations, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and Demos, are offering guidance to jurisdictions on how to comply with the NVRA.
 
The national effort comes in direct response to letters recently sent by PILF to hundreds of local election officials. In them, the group’s suggested actions could violate legal requirements under the NVRA, a law Congress passed to increase voter participation and registration. PILF uses an unreliable and inaccurate assessment of voter registration rates to accuse the jurisdictions it has targeted of having more voters on the rolls than eligible residents. It then falsely claims these high registration rates alone provide strong evidence that a jurisdiction is not fulfilling its obligation to maintain accurate voter registration databases. PILF has threatened litigation if their proposed measures are not taken. PILF’S letter is part of a larger concerted effort to remove voters from registration lists and further its false and baseless claim that there is widespread voter fraud across the country. 
 
The three civil rights organizations sent a letter and accompanying memo to the jurisdictions targeted by PILF. The groups make it clear the jurisdictions can protect themselves against PILF’s threats and offer to provide assistance in that area. The memo also asserts PILF’s justification for a voter purge, which includes misleading use of U.S. Census Bureau data, is baseless.
 
"The letters by PILF represent another attempt to perpetuate the big lie of 'voter fraud' and intimidate election officials to purge eligible voters from the voter rolls," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. "PILF is one part of a larger coordinated conservative agenda to attack the right to vote for millions of Americans. The job of election officials is to help people vote, not stop them from voting, and we will do everything we can to help election officials to do their jobs in compliance with federal law."
 
"The National Voter Registration Act exists in part to prevent irresponsible purges like the one PILF is attempting to initiate here," said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. "Scaring local officials into complying with their agenda is not only wrong, but it also could lead to illegal purges. Federal law does not require what PILF demands. We are ready to help those jurisdictions who got these letters continue to help people exercise their fundamental right to vote."
 
"Our democracy is strongest when every voice can be heard – when every eligible citizen can cast their vote and have it counted. The National Voter Registration Act includes clear guidelines for communities to maintain accurate and up-to-date voter rolls, and to protect voters from improper removal. Public Interest Legal Foundation has no viable legal claim; its letters to jurisdictions are intended to bully counties to implement aggressive and illegal voter purge practices that will disproportionately impact low income families and people of color, and suppress their votes," said Stuart Naifeh, Counsel at Demos.
 
The memo states: "In part because of the PILF letter’s deficiencies, we are concerned that it was sent with the intention of bullying or inducing counties into undertaking more aggressive voter purge practices, which could lead to the removal of eligible voters from the rolls, especially poor people and people of color.  As organizations that represent and protect voters, we are deeply concerned that PILF’s threats will scare election administrators into performing ill-conceived or illegal list maintenance programs, in violation of federal law."
 
Last week, PILF’s executive director J. Christian Adams sought to use his position as a member of the sham Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to prompt the U.S. Department of Justice to provide to the Commission a report on voter fraud prosecutions over the last decade. The inquiry raises additional alarm about the Commission’s collusion with DOJ, which in June requested information from 44 states about voter list maintenance procedures.

To read the memo sent to 248 jurisdictions, click here

To schedule an interview, please contact: Rebecca Autrey, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 646-292-8316, rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu; Derrick Robinson, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 202-662-8335, drobinson@lawyerscommittee.org; and Kate Berner, SKDKnickerbocker, 202-464-6966, kberner@skdknick.com.

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About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.  Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.”  The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
 
About the Brennan Center for Justice:
 
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. We work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all. The Center’s work ranges from voting rights to campaign finance reform, from ending mass incarceration to preserving Constitutional protection in the fight against terrorism. Part think tank, part advocacy group, part cutting-edge communications hub, we start with rigorous research. We craft innovative policies. And we fight for them — in Congress and the states, the courts, and in the court of public opinion.
 
About Demos:
 
Demos is a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy. Demos is working to reduce both political and economic inequality, deploying original research, advocacy, litigation, and strategic communications to create the America the people deserve. For more information about Demos visit www.demos.org.