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Resisting Pressure to Purge Voters in California

Chiraag Bains

We're seeking to ensure that no citizen has a voter registration improperly canceled as a result of a lawsuit initiated with misleading statistics.

Across the country, Demos is actively litigating to prevent unlawful voter purging—the removal of eligible voters from the registration rolls that can leave people locked out of our democracy on Election Day.

On April 17, we moved to intervene—on behalf of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, Rock the Vote, and the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles—in a lawsuit by the conservative group Judicial Watch, which wrongly alleges that California and Los Angeles County have too many people on the rolls. The case, Judicial Watch v. Logan, is pending in federal district court in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit uses misleading statistics to seek a court order requiring the government to purge more voters. Under Section 8 of the NVRA, states must “conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.” 52 U.S.C. § 20507(a)(4). The lawsuit claims that there are more people registered to vote in California than there are citizens of voting age, and that therefore California must be failing to remove ineligible voters. To support its claim, Judicial Watch appears to be choosing an inflated figure for the number of registered voters, and comparing it to an outdated and incomplete estimate of the number of eligible voters in a state that is growing quickly. By comparing different groups of voters from different time periods, Judicial Watch’s analysis uses inaccurate and unreliable math to seek to deny people the opportunity to vote.

We defeated this same faulty statistical argument in a case brought by another right-wing group in Broward County, Florida. In American Civil Rights Union v. Snipes, we intervened on behalf of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and put forth expert witness testimony that debunked the plaintiffs’ analysis. After a five-day trial, the court ruled on March 30, 2018, that plaintiffs’ statistical evidence was “misleading” and their claim was “unsupported by any credible evidence.”

In California, we and our co-counsel Dechert LLP are seeking to ensure that no citizen has a voter registration improperly canceled as a result of the lawsuit. Our clients are nonpartisan voter engagement organizations that register thousands of voters in Los Angeles County and across California every year. They focus their efforts on communities that face the highest barriers to voter registration, including young, low-income, Latino, and black voters.

If it is successful, Judicial Watch’s lawsuit could result in eligible voters, including our clients’ members and the thousands of citizens they register and engage in our elections, being denied their fundamental right to vote. Our clients would have to divert resources from other important activities, like voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts, to encourage people to check their status and to re-register those wrongfully removed.

At a time when 50 million eligible citizens are not registered to vote, Demos believes we need to improve—not restrict—access to the ballot. That was Congress’s purpose when it passed the NVRA in 1993. We are seeking to participate in the case in Los Angeles to protect the right of thousands of Angelenos and Californians to remain registered to vote and have a voice in our democracy.

A hearing on our clients’ motion to intervene is scheduled for June 4, 2018.