Seventh Circuit Affirms Order Blocking Indiana Voter Purge Law

Indiana cannot remove registered voters from electoral rolls without their consent, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled Tuesday. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit Tuesday upheld an order blocking Indiana from removing voters from electoral rolls by using a controversial interstate “Crosscheck” program, which has been criticized for allegedly targeting minorities and canceling registrations without voters’ consent. 

“Voting is at once an intensely personal act and a choice to participate in the collective process of representative democracy. It cannot take place, however, without an elaborate administrative infrastructure,” U.S. District Judge Diane Wood said in a 35-page ruling Tuesday.

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

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represents Common Cause Indiana in its fight to prevent state officials from removing voters from electoral rolls based solely on whether they are registered to vote in another state.

State officials say the purge is necessary to ensure that ineligible voters do not remain on the rolls after moving away from the Hoosier State.

The 2017 complaint rebuked the state’s use of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck database to compare its voter registration records with other states’ information. 

Advocates for the program, commonly referred to as Crosscheck, say it uncovers evidence of voter fraud or so-called “double voting,” where people register and vote in two states. But election experts say the program is unreliable.

The lawsuit accuses Indiana of violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 by passing a law that revamps the way the state updates voter registration lists. The 2017 law – Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 442, signed by Vice President Mike Pence’s successor, Republican Eric Holcomb – allowed officials to immediately remove voters based solely on data from the Crosscheck program.

Formerly, removal of a voter required written confirmation of a resident’s move out of state and evidence of inactivity during two general election cycles.

A federal district court judge granted a preliminary injunction against the new Indiana law, which a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed Tuesday.

“The NVRA is designed to ensure that the competing interest in preventing abuse does not wind up disenfranchising American voters,” Wood, a Clinton appointee, said in the ruling. “On the preliminary injunction record before us, we are satisfied that the plaintiff Organizations have standing to sue, and that they put enough in the record to show a likelihood of success on the merits.”

Judges Michael Brennan and Amy St. Eve, both Trump appointees, also served on the panel.

“Act 442 does away with the process of personal contact with the suspected ineligible voter and allows Indiana election officials to remove a person from the rolls based on Crosscheck without direct notification of any kind,” Wood said in the ruling. “On its face, this appears to be inconsistent with the NVRA’s prohibition on removing voters without either hearing from them directly or going through the notice process.”

The opinion notes that there might be many circumstances in which a person might register to vote in a new location but then return to their former residence – perhaps because they fail a probationary job period, drop out of college, or a return to take care of a sick family member. 

Whatever the reason, Wood said: “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.”

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