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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Court ruling against Indiana voter purge law protects voting system

A federal appeals court has ruled that an Indiana law would wrongly allow the purging of voter registrations without notification. News-Sentinel.com believes that ruling could protect some voters in Indiana from being wrongly disenfranchised.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago last week affirmed a federal judge’s ruling last year that blocked the Indiana law from taking effect.

Senate Bill 442 was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017. It would have allowed local election authorities to immediately purge voter registrations if the controversial program called Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck found a duplicate registration in another state for that person. Crosscheck serves to uncover evidence of voter fraud or so-called “double voting,” where people register and vote in two states.

State officials say the purge is necessary to ensure that ineligible voters do not remain on the rolls after moving away from Indiana.

But critics say the purges would be based solely on whether Hoosiers are registered to vote in another state. The 2017 Indiana law has been criticized for allegedly targeting minorities and canceling registrations without voters’ consent.

Last year U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in Indianapolis temporarily blocked the law from taking effect while a lawsuit filed by watchdog group Common Cause Indiana moved forward. Common Cause has insisted the Crosscheck system is unreliable.

The lawsuit by Common Cause, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, accused Indiana of violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by passing a law that revamps the way the state updates voter registration lists.

Formerly, removal of a voter required written confirmation of a resident’s move out of state and evidence of inactivity during two general election cycles.

The circuit court’s ruling affirmed Common Cause’s position while also faulting the law for equating voting in two states with being registered to vote in multiple states.

“Registering to vote in another state is not the same as a request for removal from Indiana’s voting rolls,” U.S. District Judge Diane Wood wrote in a 35-page ruling. “Indiana equates double registration with double voting. But the two are quite different.”

Wood, a Clinton appointee, wrote, “The NVRA is designed to ensure that the competing interest in preventing abuse does not wind up disenfranchising American voters.”

Judges Michael Brennan and Amy St. Eve, both Trump appointees, also served on the circuit court panel.

“Act 442 does away with the process of personal contact with the suspected ineligible voter and allows Indiana election officials to remove a person from the rolls based on Crosscheck without direct notification of any kind,” Wood said in the ruling. “On its face, this appears to be inconsistent with the NVRA’s prohibition on removing voters without either hearing from them directly or going through the notice process.”

The court’s opinion points out that there could be various circumstances in which someone might register to vote in a new location but then return to their former residence, according to a Courthouse News Service report, “perhaps because they fail a probationary job period, drop out of college, or a return to take care of a sick family member.”

Whatever the reason, Wood said: “They will vote in only one place, even if they have open registrations in two. The only way to know whether voters want to cancel their registration is to ask them.

“A name on a voter roll in Indiana is there only because a voter took the trouble to put it there,” the court said. “Laws such as the NVRA ensure that the states do not undo that work without good reason.”

While Indiana’s law may have gone forward with good intentions, we’re glad a review in the courts resulted in a reasonable ruling that affirms the purpose of the NVRA and preserves the integrity of our system of voting.

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