Time to Stop Inaccurate, Discriminatory Voter Purges

Time to Stop Inaccurate, Discriminatory Voter Purges

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By Katherine Culliton-González, Director of Voter Protection at The Advancement Project

States across the country are attempting to purge voter rolls of alleged noncitizens in an alarming escalation of Latino voter suppression. Florida’s 2012 purge program purports to remove noncitizens—however, the list is so inaccurate that it has targeted thousands of citizens—the great majority of whom are voters of color.

There is little to no evidence that noncitizen voting is a problem. Federal voting law already requires affirmation of citizenship upon registration and prohibits noncitizens from voting.

Florida and 13 other states (Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, Arkansas, Washington, Iowa, Alaska, and Texas) have now asked for access to the DHS SAVE database. SAVE is not a complete or accurate list of U.S. citizens; therefore it is not a definitive check for whether a person on the voting rolls is a noncitizen.

Moreover, the federal immigration code clearly states that there is no single list or database of U.S. citizens. Given the scarcity of actual voter fraud and incompleteness of the SAVE database, these tactics are more likely prevent eligible citizens from voting. Due to the changing demographics of immigration, most who will appear on the purge lists and be subjected to challenges are voters of color. Moreover, spending limited resources on purges is the wrong focus at a time when one-fourth of American citizens aren’t registered to vote.

Due to the potential for misuse, we urge the Federal Government to make sure that federal officials place limits on the use of the SAVE database. Any agreement to provide access must include clear disclaimers that the SAVE database is incomplete, as well as protections against violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Details of protections needed:

1. A disclaimer in the DHS/state agreements that the data is incomplete and not fully accurate.
2. Requirements that the data be used in compliance with the NVRA and the VRA.
3. In particular, any voting list maintenance must be uniform, nondiscriminatory and in compliance with Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA.
4. State election officials must check for accuracy and potential errors before targeting a voter for removal.
5. If a voter is found to be a noncitizen through this method, they must be provided with the due process rights set forth in the NVRA.
6. Privacy of those identified for investigation must be protected to the fullest extent of the law.
7. If a voter is improperly targeted, they must be fully reinstated, encouraged to vote, protected against challenges, and be able to vote a regular (not provisional) ballot.

Katherine Culliton-González is the Director of Voter Protection at The Advancement Project.  The Advancement Project is a nonpartisan, national civil rights action tank advancing universal opportunity and a just democracy. Contact: Katherine Culliton-González at kcullitongonzalez@advancementproject.org

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