Decision ruled that proposed voter roll maintenance threatens eligible voters
Miami, Florida – Today, in a victory for voters in southern Florida, a federal court in Miami rejected an effort by a right-wing activist group to bully Broward County into aggressively purging voters. In ruling against the group, the court upheld the protections against unlawful and discriminatory voter purges enshrined in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. In the case, American Civil Rights Union v. Snipes, the group claimed that Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections, Dr. Brenda Snipes, was failing to take steps to maintain accurate voter rolls, despite considerable evidence that she and her staff follow a comprehensive and well-documented set of procedures for ensuring that ineligible voters are removed while ensuring that the right of eligible voters to continue voting is protected. The group sought a court order requiring Dr. Snipes to purge voters using a number of legally questionable methods, including one that the State of Florida had tried in 2012 and then abandoned as too risky and inaccurate.
In response to the ruling, Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, released the following statement: “Our democracy is strongest when every voice can be heard – when every eligible citizen can cast their vote and have it counted. Eligible Florida voters who have taken the time to register should not be removed from the voter rolls based on unsubstantiated and misleading claims of bloated voter rolls. The National Voter Registration Act sets out a comprehensive scheme for maintaining accurate voter rolls, which Broward County has been following. We are pleased with the court’s decision today, which protects the right to vote for residents of Florida.”
In the decision, the court recognized that efforts to maintain up-to-date voter rolls must carefully guard against erroneous removal of eligible voters and found that Dr. Snipes had taken reasonable steps to ensure that Broward County’s voter rolls were accurate and up-to-date while protecting the rights of Broward county voters.
“The court’s decision today is a victory for the community and the right to vote for residents of Broward County,” said Monica Russo, Florida region executive vice-president for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which intervened in the case in support of Dr. Snipes and Broward County voters. “The despicable and ill-conceived voter purges the American Civil Rights Union pursued in this case would have negatively impacted the most marginalized members of our community, including some of our own 1199SEIU members, who may well have been prevented from exercising their right to vote. We are encouraged that the court saw the ACRU’s misleading claims of bloated voter rolls for what they were.”
In ruling against the ACRU, the court called the group’s key evidence of inaccurate voter rolls “misleading.” The ACRU and affiliated groups have used the same analysis rejected by the court in the case of Broward County to claim widespread violations of the NVRA in other states and localities around the country.
“Today’s decision offers encouragement to the hardworking election officials who have been maligned and bullied by the ACRU and its allies,” said Naifeh. “We hope that in the future, these groups will have second thoughts before making unfounded claims of bloated voter rolls and misguided demands for voter purges.”
In September 2016, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East intervened in the case, where the American Civil Rights Union sued the county supervisor in an attempt to pressure her into conducting an unnecessary and improper purge of the voter rolls, risking the inadvertent cancellation of eligible voters. The union was represented in this case by attorneys from voting rights groups Demos and Project Vote, and SEIU.
Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993 to increase voter registration opportunities and to establish the requirements states must follow when updating their voter registration rolls. The American Civil Rights Union filed the lawsuit against the Broward County Supervisor, arguing that Section 8 of the NVRA requires the supervisor to more aggressively remove (or “purge”) voters from the rolls.