ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York is wrongly purging voter rolls to remove the names of supposedly inactive voters, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of a government watchdog group.
The legal challenge against state elections officials argues the state’s purging policy violates federal law governing how states can scrub names from their list of registered voters.
“New York’s outdated policies disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the good government group Common Cause-New York.
The state’s aggressive purging policy was highlighted in last year’s elections, when tens of thousands of names were purged from voter rolls in Brooklyn, prompting widespread complaints from voters forced to cast affidavit ballots.
Officials routinely remove names of voters who they believe may have moved or died. As a result, people who haven’t voted in several years might not receive a regular ballot. Across the country, many conservative politicians and organizations favor regular purging as a way to keep voter rolls current while preventing people from committing voter fraud by ensuing only legal, registered voters cast a ballot.
Liberal groups, however, have argued that overzealous purging punishes people for voting infrequently. They say the practice is especially hard on minority communities.
A spokesman for the state’s Board of Elections did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
Federal law says states may remove a voter’s name from the rolls only if the voter writes to indicate that they have moved, or if the voter fails to respond to a letter seeking confirmation of their residency — and then fails to vote in two consecutive general national elections.
According to the lawsuit, however, New York determines that a voter is “inactive” if the voter doesn’t reply to a notice seeking confirmation of residency. Some voters in Brooklyn were reportedly denied regular ballots because they hadn’t voted since 2008 and took longer than 14 days to respond to a cancellation notice.
The Lawyers’ Committee is joined in the lawsuit by the group LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Dechert LLP.
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