Civil Rights Groups Sue To Block Indiana From Using Unreliable Process To Kick Voters Off The Rolls

Civil rights groups are suing Indiana officials to block the state from purging voters from its rolls using a process shown to inaccurately identify voters registered in multiple states.

In April, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed legislation authorizing election officials to remove voters from the rolls if they were found to be registered in more than one place. According to the legislation, one of the ways officials can identify people who are registered in more than one place is by using Interstate Crosscheck, a system developed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) that 27 states use to compare voter information.

It isn’t illegal to be registered in more than one state. But if Crosscheck flags a voter as being registered in another state, the Indiana legislation authorizes local election officials to remove them from the rolls if they can verify that person is indeed registered in their jurisdiction.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Brennan Center for Justice on behalf of the Indiana chapters of the NAACP and League of Women Voters accuses that process of violating the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The federal law requires election officials to provide notice to a voter they are at risk of being removed and then permits the officials to remove them from the voting rolls if they don’t respond over a period of time. In their complaint, lawyers called the Indiana law a “flagrant” violation of NVRA.

“The League of Women Voters of Indiana’s positions support responsible voter list maintenance,” Patsy Hoyer and Oscar Anderson, co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Indiana, said in a statement earlier this week. “But that is not what this is.”

Ian Hauer, a spokesman for Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), a defendant in the suit, said the secretary of state’s office could not comment on pending litigation. But according to the complaint, Jerry Bonnet, a lawyer in Lawson’s office, defended the state’s purging process in a July 13 letter to the Brennan Center, writing that NVRA “does not prohibit immediate cancellation of a duplicate previous voter registration based upon reliable, uniform, nondiscriminatory, information received from a voter registration official who has accepted a subsequent registration.”

The Indiana process could lead to the removal of many completely eligible voters from the rolls. Research has shown that purging based on Crosscheck would lead to the cancellation of “200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one registration used to cast a double vote.” Researchers at MIT found earlier this year there was a 13.6 percent chance of any random voter being matched to another voter who had the same name and birth month and year. The probability of finding a match decreases if registrations are compared using a full birthday.

Florida and Oregon have both abandoned the program in recent years after it produced unreliable results. In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) showed up at the polls amid an aggressive state voter purge and was told he couldn’t vote because his name had been matched to that of a dead person and removed from the rolls.

Even Crosscheck’s own participation guide warns about the possibility of erroneously identifying double votes.

“Experience in the crosscheck program indicates that a significant number of apparent double votes are false positives and not double votes,” a 2013 version of the guide says. “Many are the result of errors—voters sign the wrong line in the poll book, election clerks scan the wrong line with a barcode scanner, or there is confusion over father/son voters (Sr. and Jr.).”

Voter purging isn’t the only matter over which election officials in Indiana are facing scrutiny. Marion County, the state’s most populous, is also facing a lawsuit for repeatedly blocking the expansion of early voting.

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