Common Cause Sues New York State to End Voter Purges

State Has Improperly Moved Thousands to 'Inactive' Status

Posted by Dale Eisman on September 6, 2017


New York State has improperly deactivated the voter registrations of tens of thousands of qualified voters simply because for several years they’ve chosen not to cast ballots, Common Cause New York charges in a lawsuit filed today.

The state’s policy violates a federal law enacted to protect voting rights and disproportionally penalizes racial and ethnic minorities, the suit contends. Minority registration in the Empire State lags behind that of white voters; the suit cites a 10-percentage point gap in registrations by Latino voters compared to non-Hispanics and an even larger disparity – 21 percent – between Latino voting rates and voting by non-Hispanics.

The policy also contributes to a gap in registrations among low-income New Yorkers as compared to those who are more affluent, the suit contends. Only 63.9 percent of New Yorkers of voting age who live in “low-income” neighborhoods - census tracts where the median income is in the bottom 20 percent in the state - are registered, compared to 79.9 percent of voting age New Yorkers in “high- income” neighborhoods - census tracts where the median income is in top 20 percent in the state.

“There are a total of nearly 200,000 ‘inactive’ voters in New York, Bronx and Westchester Counties alone,” the suit notes.  “In addition, in Kings County, approximately 44,000 voters were improperly moved from active to ‘inactive’ status between the summer of 2015 and April 2016, and an additional approximately 70,000 voters were improperly removed from the voting list entirely after having previously been listed as ‘inactive.’”

The federal law involved in the case, the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) allows states to remove voters from the rolls if they fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections and then don’t answer a “confirmation notice” mailed by the state to check on their residence. But the suit says New York does not wait for voters to respond, moving them to an “inactive” list as soon as it mail out the confirmation notice.

Voters who show up at the polls after being sent confirmation notices typically find their names have been removed from poll books, the suit says. They are not issued a regular ballot; instead, the state gives them an “affidavit ballot,” which many choose not to cast and which when cast is often thrown out by election officials.

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Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause New York

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems, Voting Rights

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