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Federal judge blocks Indiana voter registration law

June 11, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge temporarily blocked a law that critics contend will allow officials to illegally purge voters from Indiana’s election rolls.

The ruling issued Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt puts the law on hold while government watchdog group Common Cause pursues its lawsuit against the Indiana secretary of state’s office over the use of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

Under a 2017 law that would have been used for the first time this July, local election officials would have been able to automatically eliminate voters who show up in the system as registered in another state, court records show.

Pratt said in her ruling that Common Cause “has a high likelihood of success” on its claim that the law violates some of the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and “threatens disenfranchisement of eligible voters.”

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, said she was disappointed by the ruling and that her office was working to review its options.

“We have never had a voter come forward who was incorrectly removed from the list,” Lawson said.

Federal law allows voters to be removed from the voter rolls only if they have confirmed in writing that they have moved, or if they fail to respond to a written notice and do not cast a ballot for at least two general election cycles.

However, Lawson’s office argues that if someone registers in a new state, that person’s new registration essentially serves as written notice.

But Common Cause argued that the Crosscheck system the state relies on has well-documented accuracy issues. The database, which about over two dozen states feed information into, is maintained by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has burnished a national reputation for pushing restrictive voting laws and was the head of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, which has been disbanded.

Pratt ruled that the harm of wrongly purging voters outweighs any possible harm to Indiana election officials seeking to protect the integrity of the process.

“At a time when states are dropping out of Crosscheck at an accelerating rate due to its inaccuracy and its significant security holes, Indiana has doubled down on its aggressive deployment of Crosscheck to purge voters,” Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at the left-leaning advocacy organization Demos, which represents Common Cause, wrote in a blog post.

Naifeh pointed to a website tracking state-by-state participation in the Crosscheck program. Kentucky, Alaska, Florida, Washington, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania have all resigned, with most of those states citing concerns over data reliability or privacy.

This isn’t the first time Lawson has drawn scrutiny over her handling of the state’s voter rolls. The American Civil Liberties Union, Indiana NAACP and the League of Women Voters filed a similar lawsuit last year.

“The court’s decision ensures that duly registered voters will not be improperly kicked off the rolls based on flawed Crosscheck data,” Sophia Lakin, attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.

Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU of Indiana, said elected officials should promote voter engagement.

“Voting is our constitutional right,” said Henegar, “and we must ensure every voice is heard.”

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