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States Illegally Purged Voters, Advocates Contend

In June, reported on barriers to the ballot box. Included in the myriad ways you could be barred from voting is having your name taken off the rolls because of a change of address.

Attorneys for several voter advocate groups say that at least three states illegally removed people from the voter rolls this year, purging them improperly on the mistaken belief that they'd moved. As a result, thousands of previously registered voters will show up at the polls in November and find their names are not on the list.

Among states alleged to have illegally purged voters are Michigan, Kansas and Louisiana, where state and county officials swap drivers' license and voter registration records with nearby states as a way to determine whether someone moved.

At the same time, states have rightfully eliminated many others. The exact number of voters affected is unclear because states either will not say or are largely unable to determine how many registrations they deleted.

"The difficulty from our perspective is it's hard to identify from where we sit the people who have actually been improperly taken off the rolls," said Allan Morrison, attorney with the Fair Elections Legal Network and a law professor at Stanford University. "We don't have access to all the match data."

Data-sharing agreements exist among other states. but the three states were singled out for relying strictly on a cross-state match to determine an address change. That would violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which lays out a systematic way to determine voter ineligibility, say attorneys that represent voters.

The disagreement lies in the belief by state and county election officials that their own state law or jurisdiction supersedes the NVRA. Advocate groups contend that's nonsense and that applying for a drivers' license in another state doesn't prove someone permanently changed address.

In Louisiana, for instance, 21,000 voters were purged in August 2007 for receiving drivers' licenses in another state after losing their IDs in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A lawsuit contesting the matter was dismissed.
Recent spikes in home foreclosures could exacerbate the problem.

Efforts to gain ground with election officials, absent any legal action, have largely run up against brick walls.
In Michigan, where Advancement Project attorneys were scheduled to hold a meeting in July, state officials cancelled at the last minute and haven't rescheduled, attorney Brad Heard said while in Detroit in August.

"State election officials are kind of shutting down right now, which is unfortunate," Heard said. "They're taking the position that they don't want to discuss the purging matters with us."

Both Louisiana and Kansas also do not look to re-evaluate the voters they purged based on out-of-state drivers' licenses and duplicate registrations, said Morrison.

Louisiana officials say they last performed such a purge 13 months ago. "We're specifically not doing it right in front of an election," spokesman, Jacques Berry told the New York Times.

In Madison County, Miss., a single election commissioner, without knowledge of the other four, ordered the purging of 10,000 voters because of out-of-state drivers' licenses leading up to the state's 2008 primary.