Lawsuit: NY disenfranchised eligible voters in 2016 primary

New York removed inactive but eligible voters from poll books in violation of federal voting law, a new lawsuit alleges. It claims millions more New Yorkers could be disenfranchised next year without court action.

The suit, filed Wednesday by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is the latest to target a state’s procedures for removing inactive voters from the rolls—an area that’s become a central battleground in fights over voting access.

New York’s voting woes made headlines during last year’s Democratic primary, when numerous voters reported being turned away at the polls despite being registered to vote.

The suit alleges that more than a million New York voters were designated inactive by the state Board of Elections and removed from Election Day poll books for the primary. It says this was done in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, which bars states from removing voters unless they fail to respond to a postcard verifying their address and fail to vote in two straight federal elections.

“New York’s outdated policies disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “Our litigation provides yet another unfortunate example of how New York’s voting laws and procedures are antiquated and stand in desperate need of reform.”

The New York State Board of Elections declined to comment on the suit.

Legislation to reform voting in New York, including establishing early voting and automatic voter registration, stalled last year in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The question of how aggressive states can be in conducting voter purges, including removing from the rolls voters who haven’t cast a ballot for several years, is gaining an increasingly high profile. In recent years, voting rights advocates have challenged the procedures used by Ohio and Georgia, among states, and recently raised concerns to The Daily Democracy  about West Virginia’s purge.

The Ohio case is set to be considered by the Supreme Court, which could issue a sweeping ruling making clear when purges go too far.

In addition, voting advocates fear the White House voting commission may encourage states to more aggressively purge their rolls, potentially disenfranchising eligible voters. One commissioner, Christian Adams, leads a conservative legal organization that has specialized in pushing states to conduct purges.

Photo: Creative Commons

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