Civic nonprofit sues state over voter removal policies

Published 11:03 am Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Some Kentucky voters might show up to the polls and find out that they can’t vote, through no fault of their own, a civic nonprofit is arguing in federal court.

Under state law, when top election officials are notified someone who appears to be a registered Kentucky voter has registered to vote in another state or local jurisdiction, they remove them from their current jurisdiction’s voter roll.

However, according to civic nonprofit Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, this violates federal elections law.

In a recently filed lawsuit, KFTC argues that Kentucky election law doesn’t give removed voters the notice and opportunity to respond required by federal law — specifically, section 8(d) of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

The Fair Elections Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center are suing Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams and the individual members of the State Board of Elections over this issue, on Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s behalf.

KFTC filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky on June 28.

How does Kentucky law differ from federal law?

The National Voter Registration Act establishes rules for removing registered voters from the voting rolls.

When election officials suspect a voter has moved, and is consequently not eligible to vote in a particular jurisdiction anymore, they must send these voters a formal written notice.

Upon receipt, voters can confirm their address, clarifying whether they’ve moved out of the jurisdiction. If they confirm they’ve moved, elections officials can remove them from their previous jurisdiction’s voter roll.

They can also remove voters if they don’t respond to the formal written notice and they don’t vote in that jurisdiction in the following two general election cycles.

Kentucky law does not include a formal written notice requirement before removal.

A 2021 law allows the State Board of Elections to remove voters within five days of notification that a voter suspected to be the same person has registered to vote in a new local or state jurisdiction.

Cross-state voter removal programs

Kentucky must follow federal law to ensure voters aren’t mistakenly removed, said Michelle Kanter Cohen, policy director and senior counsel for the Fair Elections Center.

“There have been increasing efforts recently to kind of resurrect some of the cross-state matching systems that are not accurate, even in recent months,” she said. “And reliance on lists that are problematic because they potentially match up people that are not the same person with a person in another state.”

Kentucky currently uses the Electronic Registration Information Center for voter removal, but Adams has previously stated he is looking for other options as ERIC has garnered controversy among Republican groups in recent years.

Michon Lindstrom, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said Kentucky’s elections are a “national success story.”

“Three years ago, Kentucky enacted a bipartisan law to prevent voting in more than one state in a presidential election,” he said in a statement. “Now that a presidential election is underway, a left-wing activist group is trying to undo that law and sow chaos and doubt in our elections. We believe voters should vote in only one state, and we expect to prevail in court.”

Members of the State Board of Elections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Voter removal impact

According to State Board of Elections data, over 20,000 voters have been purged from voter rolls for moving out of the state since 2021.

In 2022, the State Board of Elections identified 244,893 registered voters who might have moved. The Board sent out 173,401 notices to registered voters in accordance with federal law.

The Board did not track the number of returned notices confirming or correcting registration information. However, 27% were returned as undeliverable and 15% received no response. The board removed just over 800 voters for moving out of state.

Cohen said election integrity systems using weaker criteria, like names and birth dates, may accidentally remove eligible voters from the rolls.

“You find actually that a lot of people who are not the same person share those things when you have enough records across multiple states,” she said.

“… This has the potential to affect people who are doing everything right – who are registering, getting ready to vote and could be removed through no fault of their own without notice. And we think it’s important that all people who remain eligible get the chance to have their voice heard.”