Voting rights groups warn of ‘wide-scale voter purge’ bid

Voting rights groups are warning of an effort by a conservative law firm to launch a “wide-scale voter purge” — the latest step in a growing battle over state voter rolls.

The controversy started in September, when the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) sent a letter to 248 local election officials. The letter warned that the counties had more registered voters than eligible residents, and were violating a federal law that requires efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls. It threatened a lawsuit if the counties didn’t promptly take steps to remove dead or ineligible voters, or those who had moved.

PILF’s president is J. Christian Adams (pictured), a former lawyer in the George W. Bush Justice Department and a member of the White House voting commission. Another influential member of the commission, Hans von Spakovsky, is PILF’s director.

Adams, a key backer of restrictive voting policies, recently raised eyebrows when he urged commission staff to press the Justice Department to compile an annual report on its efforts to prosecute voter fraud cases.

PILF’s letter to the counties sparked concern that eligible voters could end up being removed from the rolls.

On Wednesday, three voting rights groups sent a letter of their own to the same counties, pledging to provide legal help to those who resisted PILF’s demand to cull their rolls.

“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,” the letter said.

An accompanying memo called PILF’s allegation that the counties are violating federal law “baseless.”

According to the memo, PILF’s claim that the counties have more registered voters than eligible voters is flawed, because it uses Census Bureau data to estimate voting population, though the data isn’t designed for that purpose. Even if the claim were correct, the memo adds, that doesn’t necessarily mean the counties are violating the law, since numerous safeguards bar counties from removing voters without adequate confirmation.

The back and forth comes at a time when voter rolls purges appear to have replaced voter ID laws as the hot way to restrict voting. Georgia, Indiana, and West Virginia all have conducted controversial purges lately, and a deeply-flawed purge by New York City led to over 200,000 eligible voters being removed. In January, the Supreme Court it set to hear a challenge to Ohio’s practice of purging voters who don’t vote often enough. And there are indications that the White House voting commission may try to get states to conduct additional purges using a flawed database of non-citizens.

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