Recently conservative groups have been stepping up pressure on state election officials to remove registered voters from their eligible voter lists according to the Brennan Center for Justice. It is believed that right-wing groups are making a stronger effort to remove Democratic-leaning voters before the crucial midterm elections in November.
The right-wing effort is nothing new in that since 2012, conservative groups have filed at least 17 federal lawsuits attempting to force state and local election officials to kick voters off the rolls.
On June 11 the U.S. Supreme Court approved Ohio’s controversial policy of purging infrequent voters from its registration rolls, which dealt a major setback to voting rights proponents. According to these activists, the practice of purging disenfranchises thousands of registered voters who are primarily Democratic-leaning.
Courts have held that there is nothing wrong with scrubbing voting lists of people who are ineligible to vote because they have moved or are dead. But activists have complained that in states controlled by Republicans, such as Ohio, there have been overly aggressive purging practices. As a result, they say, many surprised citizens will find themselves disenfranchised on Election Day.
Conservative groups who have filed suits so far include Judicial Watch, the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), and True the Vote.
PILF, headed up by a former member of President Trump’s now-disbanded “Voter Fraud” Commission, sent threatening letters to 250 state and local jurisdictions in 2017 saying they would face lawsuits if they didn’t purge their voter rolls of infrequent voters.
These right-wing groups have been getting some successful results. Judicial Watch claims that in Indiana their 2012 lawsuit against the state “forced” Indiana to more aggressively purge registered voters. Judicial Watch also recently won a settlement with the state of Kentucky on their purge practices. ACRU and PILF have both also won settlements from Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas.
But pro-voter groups are fighting back. They are filing lawsuits to protect voters against overly aggressive purges. In response to PILF’s menacing and threatening letter campaign in late 2017, the Brennan Center and other civil rights groups contacted the same jurisdictions as PILF to give them the legal analysis they needed to rebut and fight back against the falsehoods and inaccuracies in PILF’s correspondence.
The right-wing activism to eliminate registered voters seems to have picked up steam over the past year or two. In August of last year we wrote about “massive state level voter purge”:
“Laws like the one in Ohio are specifically targeting Democratic voters because Democrats vote less often in off year elections. Republicans are …. trying to rig elections by changing the shape of the electorate to one that favors their party.
The term infrequent voter is a construct that is not supported by the Constitution. Republicans are trying to cut the people out of representative democracy. If Trump can’t win on his own merits, and the Russians aren’t such willing partners in 2020, Trump’s backup plan is to make it difficult if not impossible for Democrats to vote. Trump and the Republicans can’t win a fair contest of ideas, so they are doing everything that they can think of to rig the game.”
Although court victories can be extremely important, there is a bigger fight going on between those who want all citizens to vote and those whose goal is to disenfranchise as many Democrats as possible. This is a crucial battle — an epic battle — because our very democracy is at stake.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.