Judge Rules Michigan Voter Purge Program Violates Federal Law

October 13, 2008

Advancement Project And ACLU Hail Decision Blocking Unlawful Voter Purging

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

DETROIT – In a major victory for voting rights, a judge today ruled that Michigan's voter removal program violates federal law and ordered the state to stop illegally purging voters from the rolls. The decision comes in a lawsuit filed last month by Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Michigan and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

"We are gratified that the judge ordered the state of Michigan to halt its unlawful purge program," said Bradley Heard, senior attorney with Advancement Project. "This decision protects thousands of Michigan residents' voting rights from being infringed upon during this important and historic presidential election, and beyond. It is now up to the state of Michigan to afford these voters the protections that federal law requires."

Judge Stephen J. Murphy of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that one of Michigan's voter removal programs violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). In question was a Michigan state law requiring local clerks to nullify the registrations of newly-registered voters whenever their voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable. Detroit elections officials report that nearly 30,000 voters per year in that city alone are removed from the rolls as a result of this state election law. The NVRA permits voters to remain on the voter rolls for at least two federal elections after voter registration cards are returned.

Judge Murphy ordered that state to "immediately discontinue their practice of cancelling or rejecting a voter's registration based upon the return of the voter's original voter identification card as undeliverable."

"This is a major victory for Michigan voters and the integrity of our democratic process," said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Today's decision brings us one step closer to restoring confidence in a electoral system that has been poisoned by illegal disfranchisement policies. As a result of the judge's decision, fewer Michigan voters will be illegally purged and wrongly disfranchised – and that's good for everyone."

This program has a very detrimental impact in minority, low-income and student communities across Michigan. These communities tend to be more transient and to live in multi-family housing. The plaintiffs in the case are the United States Student Association (USSA) and the ACLU of Michigan.

"Today's ruling is a clear victory for thousands of disenfranchised individuals who were illegally removed from the voter rolls. The ruling puts the Secretary of State on notice that she can no longer ignore federal law by illegally purging voters simply because it is easier," said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. "With voter turnout predicted to be the highest in state history, the interests of every voter in Michigan should come first and we must guarantee that everyone who is eligible to vote on Nov. 4 will be allowed to exercise this fundamental right."

"This is a very significant ruling for Michigan voters," said Matthew Lund, the ACLU cooperating attorney and a partner at Pepper Hamilton LLP who argued the case. "The court recognized – and repeated several times – that the state of Michigan is conducting unlawful voter purges that clearly violate the National Voter Registration Act. Michigan voters who were removed from the voting rolls for no reason other than failure to receive their ID card in the mail will now be allowed to vote in November."

Attorneys in this case are Heard of Advancement Project; Bell-Platts and Neil Bradley of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan; and Lund, Mary K. Deon and Deborah Kovsky of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Legal documents in this case, including today's decision, are available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/gen/36838res20080917.html

More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights

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