Civil Rights Groups Launch National Effort to Combat Alarming Voter Purge Attempt

Release Date: 
November 22, 2017

While Public Interest Legal Foundation Undertakes National Campaign to Institute Massive Purge Voter Programs, Civil Rights Groups Offer Needed Guidance to Election Officials on Prohibitions within the National Voter Registration Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, leading national civil rights organizations are urging state and county election officials in jurisdictions across the country to reject the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s (PILF) coordinated attempt to launch wide-scale voter purge effort across the country. Using deceptive tactics promoting voter suppression, and urging actions that could in fact violate the legal requirements of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), PILF’s action has created an immediate need for clarification. In response the coalition of organizations, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and Demos, are offering guidance to jurisdictions on how to comply with the NVRA.

The national effort comes in direct response to letters recently sent by PILF to hundreds of local election officials. In them, the group’s suggested actions could violate legal requirements under the NVRA, a law Congress passed to increase voter participation and registration. PILF uses an unreliable and inaccurate assessment of voter registration rates to accuse the jurisdictions it has targeted of having more voters on the rolls than eligible residents. It then falsely claims these high registration rates alone provide strong evidence that a jurisdiction is not fulfilling its obligation to maintain accurate voter registration databases. PILF has threatened litigation if their proposed measures are not taken.  PILF’S letter is part of a larger concerted effort to remove voters from registration lists and further its false and baseless claim that there is widespread voter fraud across the country. 

Today, the three civil rights organizations sent a letter and accompanying memo to the jurisdictions targeted by PILF. The groups make it clear the jurisdictions can protect themselves against PILF’s threats and offer to provide assistance in that area.  The memo also asserts PILF’s justification for a voter purge, which includes misleading use of U.S. Census Bureau data, is baseless.

“The letters by PILF represent another attempt to perpetuate the big lie of “voter fraud” and intimidate election officials to purge eligible voters from the voter rolls,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. PILF is one part of a larger coordinated conservative agenda to attack the right to vote for millions of Americans. The job of election officials is to help people vote, not stop them from voting, and we will do everything we can to help election officials to do their jobs in compliance with federal law.”

“The National Voter Registration Act exists in part to prevent irresponsible purges like the one PILF is attempting to initiate here,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Scaring local officials into complying with their agenda is not only wrong, but it also could lead to illegal purges. Federal law does not require what PILF demands. We are ready to help those jurisdictions who got these letters continue to help people exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

“Our democracy is strongest when every voice can be heard – when every eligible citizen can cast their vote and have it counted. The National Voter Registration Act includes clear guidelines for communities to maintain accurate and up-to-date voter rolls, and to protect voters from improper removal. Public Interest Legal Foundation has no viable legal claim; its letters to jurisdictions are intended to bully counties to implement aggressive and illegal voter purge practices that will disproportionately impact low income families and people of color, and suppress their votes,” said Stuart Naifeh, Counsel at Demos.

The memo states: “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.  As organizations that represent and protect voters, we are deeply concerned that PILF’s threats will scare election administrators into performing ill-conceived or illegal list maintenance programs, in violation of federal law.”

Last week, PILF’s executive director J. Christian Adams sought to use his position as a member of the sham Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to prompt the U.S. Department of Justice to provide to the Commission a report on voter fraud prosecutions over the last decade.  The inquiry raises additional alarm about the Commission’s collusion with DOJ, which in June requested information from 44 states about voter list maintenance procedures.

To read the memo sent to 248 location jurisdictions on Wednesday, click here

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