Clarke County, Mississippi has more people registered to vote than are alive. And my firm, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, on behalf of the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), is doing something about it.
First, some context. You???ve likely heard of the ???Motor Voter??? act passed in the early 90???s, but you may not recall the specifics of the law. Called the ???National Voter Registration Act???, it was touted as a means of making voter registration easier. Congress created a standardized federal registration form and, among other things, required states to promote voter registration including, enter the nickname, when someone applies for a driver???s license.
A lesser-known provision of the Act requires local election officials to maintain the voter registration lists regularly. In short, the officials must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the voter lists are as accurate as possible. This includes seemingly-obvious steps such as removing deceased voters as well as those who have moved away.
Not only is such list maintenance required by federal law but the benefits are myriad, including ensuring clean elections and providing an accurate picture of the voter turnout in the county. Dirty voter rolls provide the perfect environment for hard-to-detect voter fraud.
Fast forward to 2014. Publicly-available data showed that Clarke County had more registered voters than citizens eligible to vote. The ACRU went back to data from previous years and saw that this was not a one-time occurrence. Unfortunately, the Obama Justice Department is not acting to enforce the important federal requirement of election roll maintenance. So the ACRU sent the county a letter pointing out the problem, and requested more information. It received no response. It also made several attempts to work with the county to fix the problem but no progress was made.
The problem is urgent because Mississippi is holding statewide elections this fall to elect state officials.
This week, the Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court on ACRU???s behalf seeking to force Clarke County to comply with federal law and clean up its rolls. This is the first case filed by the Foundation as part of its efforts to clean up voter rolls around the nation.
Kaylan L. Phillips is an attorney with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting and restoring election integrity.