Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Removal of Voters from New York Poll Books



WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), together with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Dechert LLP, filed suit in federal court in New York on Wednesday on behalf of Common Cause New York to restore the voting rights of millions of New Yorkers ahead of the 2018 election.

The suit against the New York State Board of Elections alleges that certain eligible but “inactive” voters are improperly removed from poll books throughout New York State in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).  This causes the disenfranchisement of New Yorkers who are incorrectly told by poll workers that they are not eligible to vote or forced to vote an affidavit ballot rather than a regular ballot.  The NVRA, however, precludes removal of eligible voters from the voting rolls unless they fail to respond to a postcard from election officials seeking to verify their address and also fail to vote in two consecutive federal election cycles.

“New York’s outdated policies disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our democracy works when every eligible voter can exercise his or her fundamental right and cast a ballot that counts. Our litigation provides yet another unfortunate example of how New York’s voting laws and procedures are antiquated and stand in desperate need of reform.”

In just the April 2016 primary election alone, more than 44,000 Brooklyn voters were inappropriately excluded from Election Day poll books because they had been incorrectly designated as “inactive.”  At the time of the primary, millions of inactive voters were not listed in poll books in New York City and throughout the State of New York.  Millions more voters will face the same situation in the 2018 midterm elections if their rights are not restored.

“This suit seeks to ensure that all eligible voters in New York State, including Latino voters, are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote without being unlawfully disenfranchised, and seeks to ensure that New York State remains in full compliance with federal voting rights requirements,” said Joanna E. Cuevas Ingram, Associate Counsel with LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“Although New York claims to be one of the most progressive states in the country, it has a history of disenfranchising voters. Common Cause/NY and our tens of thousands of members believe that voting is a key right for Americans, not a privilege for the few.  Purging eligible voters from voter rolls is a clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act—we trust the courts will see it that way, too,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

“Federal law guarantees the right of qualified voters to vote in federal elections,” said Neil Steiner, a partner at Dechert, the pro bono law firm partnering with the Lawyers Committee and LatinoJustice in bringing this case.  “It is critical that all eligible New York voters have an opportunity to cast their ballot and participate in our democracy.”

The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  The lawsuit will seek relief for the 2018 and all future federal election cycles.

To see full complaint, click here.

About the Lawyers’ Committee

The Lawyers’ Committee, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.  Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee,