Civil Rights Groups Say Indiana Law Suppresses Voters

(CN) – The NAACP and League of Women Voters sued Wednesday to challenge a new Indiana law that immediately strikes a voter from the rolls if a computer program matches their name to a voter in another state.

Indiana lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 442, which makes amendments to the state’s procedure for maintaining its voter rolls. The law took effect July 1.

Previously, the state submitted its voter roll to the national Crosscheck program, received a list of Indiana voters possibly registered in other states, and sent those voters an address confirmation notice.

But the new law removes the notification step, and immediately eliminates voters from the roll if they are flagged as a duplicate by the computer program.

The Indiana State Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Indiana sued Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and the directors of the state’s Election Division over the change on Wednesday.

“This action is necessary to protect the sacred right of Indiana residents to vote without interference and to prevent the unlawful removal of Indiana residents from the state’s voter registration rolls,” according to the complaint filed in Indianapolis federal court.

The lawsuit continues, “The amendments in SB 442, in contravention of federal law, require no inquiry, confirmation, or notice to a voter that his or her registration is being canceled and thereby ensure that any unreliability in Crosscheck disenfranchises voters with discriminatory effect.”

In particular, SB 442 allegedly violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which explicitly sets forth requirements states must meet before removing a voter from the registration rolls. The law requires voters receive a formal written notice and an opportunity to respond to the notice, or to demonstrate their continued residency by voting.

The NAACP and League of Women Voters claim Crosscheck has a well-documented history of returning false positives that disproportionately affect minority voters, many of whom are likely to have common first and last name matches.

“When Crosscheck compares more than 100 million voter records, it accordingly, incorrectly matches many distinct voters with common first names, last names, and dates of birth,” the complaint states. “Indeed, in existing studies, Crosscheck flagged one in six Latinos, one in seven Asian-Americans, and one in nine African-Americans as potential double registrants.”

According to one study, relying on Crosscheck alone would cancel the registrations of 200 legitimate voters for every one voter that was registered in two jurisdictions.

“The only possible justification for SB 442 – that it is necessary to protect against voter fraud – is both false and irrelevant. The NVRA and Federal law do not excuse a failure to include the necessary mandated protections on the ground that a state law purports to prevent voter fraud,” the complaint states.

The NAACP and League of Women Voters seek a declaration that the voter removal provisions of SB 442 are unconstitutional, and an injunction against their enforcement.

The civil rights groups are represented in the lawsuit by Trent McCain in Merrillville, Ind., and by attorneys with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

“No Hoosier should be silenced on Election Day,” Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, said in a statement. “Yet, under this new law, that will happen. It’s vital that Indiana follow federal law and ensure that voters are not wrongfully removed from the rolls.”

Patsy Hoyer and Oscar Anderson, co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Indiana, said they support responsible voter-list maintenance, “but that is not what this is.”

Indiana Secretary of State spokesperson Valerie Warycha declined to comment on the case.

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