ACRU

Justice Department Failure: Suit Filed Over DOJ Refusal to Clean Up Voter Rolls

This column by Senior Legal Fellow for The Heritage Foundation Hans A. von Spakovsky was published April 30, 2013 on the PJ Media website.

The American Civil Rights Union wants local election officials to clean up voter rolls in Mississippi. Last Friday, the group filed suit against two counties that have more registered voters than the Census says they have voting-eligible citizens.

The ACRU is stepping into the breach left by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. Under Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez (now nominated to head the U.S. Department of Labor), the division has refused to enforce Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter law. Section 8 requires states to remove ineligible voters from their registration lists.

Filing the ACRU lawsuits against Jefferson Davis County and Walthall County were three former Justice Department lawyers: Christopher Coates, Christian Adams (the legal editor of PJ Media), and Henry Ross. As the complaints outline, the U.S. Census says Jefferson Davis County has only 9,536 residents of voting age. Yet the county has 10,078 registered voters, giving it a registration rate of 105 percent. (The national average hovers at about 70 percent.)

Walthall County rolls are even more astonishing. The Census counts only 11,368 voting-age residents there, but the county boasts 14,108 registered voters — a 124 percent registration rate.

County officials don’t seem too concerned about it, though. They refused to respond to the ACRU’s request for information on what Walthall County was doing to comply with the Motor Voter requirements. Section 8 requires states and local election officials to make “a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters” when they die or move away.

That may seem to be a commonsense requirement, but the radical wing of the civil rights community loathes the provision.

The Obama administration has not filed a single case to enforce Section 8, even though numerous counties in many states have the same disparities between voter rolls and eligible voters as these two Mississippi counties. Their voter registration lists are out-of-date because local officials are not deleting names of those who have died, moved away, or otherwise become ineligible to vote. According to a recent report on the Civil Rights Division by the Department of Justice inspector general, ten witnesses told the IG that one of Obama’s political appointees and Perez’s direct subordinates, Julie Fernandes, told Division staff that the administration was not interested in pursuing any cases under Section 8 because it did not expand voter access.

In fact, Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Voting Section at the Division, recommended at least eight states be investigated for violating Section 8. Perez ignored his recommendation.

Eventually, Coates was forced out as a career manager at the Division because of his willingness to enforce this federal law, as well as for his views supporting race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (a view that Perez told the IG he does not share). In Perez’s opinion, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act does not protect white voters from racial discrimination. Coates’s co-counsel, Christian Adams, resigned over the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case and the misrepresentations made about the dismissal by the Justice Department.

The Mississippi cases are important. The Motor Voter law has been in force since 1993, and Section 8 has almost never been enforced despite the dangers posed to the integrity of the election process by inaccurate and unreliable voter registration lists. Not a single Section 8 case was filed during the Clinton administration. The Bush administration filed the first such case in 2005, and reaped harsh criticism for trying to enforce the law.

Jefferson Davis County has been in the news since then. It was the site of a 2007 election dispute which involved “a dead man voting, a man voting while in the (hospital) ICU,” and other problems according to Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Yet the same Civil Rights Division that is refusing to enforce Section 8 in Mississippi is also trying to stop Mississippi from implementing a voter ID requirement approved overwhelmingly by the state’s voters. And it is the same Division that failed to remove (or discipline) one of its Voting Section employees from participation in the review of voting cases in Mississippi after she called Mississippi residents “disgusting” and “shameful” for approving voter ID.

These are the first lawsuits from the ACRU’s “Election Integrity Defense Project,” which is headed by former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. By trying to enforce federal laws intended to secure the integrity of our democratic process and our most fundamental right — the right to vote in free and fair elections — the ACRU is doing what the Justice Department should be doing, and would be doing if its law enforcement decisions were not so politicized.