For Immediate Release
Advancement Project And ACLU Sue Michigan Secretary of State Over Unlawful Voter Purging
DETROIT - Advancement
Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Michigan and
the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit late
yesterday challenging two statewide voter purge programs that could
potentially disfranchise hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters in
advance of the November 2008 presidential election. The lawsuit was
filed in the U.S. District Court in Detroit against Michigan Secretary
of State Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Bureau of Elections Director
Christopher M. Thomas, and Ypsilanti Clerk Frances McMullen.
"We have repeatedly advised
Secretary Land's office that these voter purge programs are unlawful,
yet they have refused to bring their practices into compliance," said
Bradley Heard, senior attorney with Advancement Project. "Thus, we felt
that filing this action was the only way we could ensure that the
voting rights of thousands of Michigan residents would not be infringed
upon during this important and historic presidential election, and
Advancement Project's previous requests for meetings with Director Thomas to discuss these issues were refused.
Under one voter removal program, the
Michigan Department of State, which administers both driver's license
and voter registration records, immediately cancels the voter
registrations of Michigan voters who obtain driver's licenses in other
states instead of issuing the appropriate confirmation of registration
notices and following the required voter removal procedures mandated by
the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). According to the
Department's own estimations, over 280,000 voters per year are removed
from the rolls in this manner.
Under the second voter removal
program, a Michigan state law requires local clerks to nullify the
registrations of newly-registered voters whenever their original voter
identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable.
Detroit elections officials report that nearly 30,000 voters per year
in that city alone are removed from the rolls as a result of this state
election law, which violates the NVRA and other federal and state laws.
The NVRA permits voters to remain on the voter rolls for at least two
federal elections after voter registration cards are returned.
"With Michigan set to be one of the
most important battleground states in this election and turnout
predicted to be the highest in state history, we are going to do
everything we can to make sure that every vote counts and that nobody
is illegally purged from the voter rolls," said Kary Moss, Executive
Director of the ACLU of Michigan.
The plaintiffs in the case are the
United States Student Association (USSA) and the ACLU of Michigan. The
parties have asked the federal court to schedule a hearing as soon as
possible and to enter an immediate temporary injunction barring further
purges under these programs.
Jonathan Doster, Michigan Field
Organizer for USSA, explained that the purge programs being challenged
in the lawsuit could have a devastating impact on many of the youth and
college voters that his organization registers and for whom his
"Students and young adults generally
are much more transient than older adults, are much more likely to have
driver's licenses from different states than their colleges, and are
much more likely to live in multi-unit housing, such as dormitories and
apartments. Anyone who has lived in these types of housing knows that
the mail can sometimes be very unreliable and unpredictable. It's just
not fair to deny someone the right to vote just because they are an
out-of-state student or they don't get a piece of mail," said Doster.
These voter removal programs could
have a very detrimental impact in minority and low-income communities
across Michigan. Like students, these communities tend to be more
transient and to live in multi-family housing. Thus, voters of color
are at risk of facing mass disfranchisement at the polls if something
is not done now.
"The state of Michigan is breaking
the law. By going forward with these unlawful purges, the only
reasonable conclusion to draw is that the state is trying to
disfranchise voters," said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the
ACLU Voting Rights Project. "With the election just weeks away, the
effect of these undemocratic purges could make all the difference in
deciding who becomes our next president. It is the fundamental right of
every eligible voter to participate in that decision and must be
protected from the whims of partisan politicians."
"Purge programs of this type are a
blatant violation of federal law barring the immediate removal of
voters from the rolls based solely on information suggesting problems
with their residence address," concluded Heard. "The state of Michigan
should afford these voters the protections that federal law requires."
Attorneys in this case are Heard of
Advancement Project; Bell-Platts and Neil Bradley of the ACLU Voting
Rights Project; Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan; and
Matthew J. Lund, Mary K. Deon and Deborah Kovsky of Pepper Hamilton LLP.
Legal documents in this case are available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/gen/
More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org