Judge Blocks Indiana From Removing People From Voter Rolls

Voters were lined up outside of the Vigo County Annex in Terre Haute, Ind.,. on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, to take advantage of the final day of early voting. (Austen Leake/Tribune-Star via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Indiana may not enforce portions of a voting law that would allow the state to remove individuals from the eligible voters list without first trying to contact them.

In her 26-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Tanya Pratt found that the voting law known as “Senate Enrolled Act 334,” an amendment to a previous law, violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 because it allows the removal of voters from the rolls without direct contact and before a required waiting period.

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2017 on behalf of the Indiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of Women Voters of Indiana.

The ruling was praised by one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Eliza Sweren-Becker who serves as counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center of Justice.

“We are pleased by the ruling,” Sweren-Becker told Courthouse News. “Because voters should not be removed from the rolls absent notification.”

The lawsuit claimed that original state law and the use of a voting program known as Crosscheck allowed the removal of voters in a way that violates federal law because the voters in question are not contacted.

Proponents of Crosscheck claim that the system helps to uncover voter fraud by identifying people who are registered and vote in two states at the same time. However, opponents of the program claim that the results are unreliable and that it is used to disenfranchise voters.

Pratt issued an initial injunction against the law in 2018, and a later ruling from the Seventh Circuit upheld that initial injunction in 2019.

“The Court concludes that SEA 334 violates the NVRA by allowing cancellation of a voter’s registration without direct contact with the registered voter and without utilizing the notice-and-waiting procedures,” Pratt wrote.

In her original injunction, Pratt laid out her criticism of the voter purge system.

“If a voter is disenfranchised and purged erroneously, that voter has no recourse after Election Day. While the Defendants have a strong public interest in protecting the integrity of voter registration rolls and the electoral process, they have other procedures in place that can protect that public interest that do not violate the NVRA,” Pratt wrote.

The original law targeted by the lawsuit was amended on March 21, 2020 by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. The amendment withdrew the state’s participation in Crosscheck but created a similar system under the state’s control.

Because the original state law and its participation in the Crosscheck program have been superseded by the SEA 334, they argued that the plaintiffs would have to file a new lawsuit challenging the current law.

However, Pratt found that because of the new law’s similar effects, the matter was not moot and she could issue findings.

“The gravamen of Plaintiffs’ Complaint is that Indiana’s election law violates the NVRA by allowing cancellation of voter registrations without direct contact from the voter or, alternatively, providing notice to the voter and then waiting two election cycles before cancelling the voter registration. This Court and the Seventh Circuit understood this to be the issue when granting and affirming injunctive relief,” Pratt wrote.

The lawsuit’s listed defendants are Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, and Co-Directors of the Indiana Election Division J. Bradley King and Angela Nussmeyer.

“We’re celebrating,” said Linda Hanson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Indiana. “The League is obviously pleased that the Court agreed with us that SEA 334 violates the NVRA in the same way as SEA 442 because it permits removal of registered voters from the rolls without direct contact with the voter and without the Notice-and-Waiting period.  The permanent injunction against implementation of SEA 334 is a victory for Hoosier voters.” 

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