3d Circuit Rejects ACRU’s Voter Purge Suit in Philadelphia, Saying Suit Threatens Goals of NVRA and Integrity of the Vote

Unanimous opinion:

The American Civil Rights Union (“ACRU”) challenges the Philadelphia City Commissioners’ failure to purge the city’s voter rolls of registered voters who are currently incarcerated due to a felony conviction. Because state law prohibits felons from voting while they are in prison, the ACRU argues that the National Voter Registration Act requires the Commissioners to remove them from the voter rolls. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the District Court’s dismissal of this suit…..

In Pennsylvania, individuals convicted of a felony are citizens who can vote the moment they are released from prison, regardless of probation or parole status. If an individual is purged from the rolls while incarcerated, he or she will be required to reregister after release. Voter registrations take time to process, and the state further imposes a 30-day cutoff before an election, after which new registrants are ineligible to vote in an upcoming election. However, under Pennsylvania law, a previously-registered individual released the morning of November 8, 2016 would be eligible to vote in the election that day. The ACRU’s position would preclude that eligible voter from casting a vote, a result that would clearly contravene Congress’s announced intention of protecting access to the polls and increasing voter turnout.71 Accordingly, we hold that the very thorough and thoughtful opinion of the District Court is clearly correct and entirely in keeping with the “whole law” and the “object and policy” of the NVRA. It is the ACRU’s interpretation of the NVRA, not the Commissioners’, that most threatens the goals of the statute and the integrity of the vote. 

(my emphasis)

Footnote 71 reads:

 We also note that during purging efforts, election officials often inadvertently remove voters not convicted of felonies which even more dramatically disenfranchises eligible voters. As Amici Curiae Project Vote and Demos outline in their brief, officials that have undertaken purges in the past have removed hundreds—if not thousands—of registrants who have not been convicted of felonies due to improper matching procedures. Amici Curiae Br. 17–23 (citing Myrna Pérez, Brennan Center for Justice, Voter Purges (2008), http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/publications/Voter.Purges.f.pdf). As a result, registrants such as those with similar names as convicted felons or registrants only convicted of misdemeanors are improperly purged from the rolls, and most do not find out until they are denied a ballot on Election Day. See Pérez, supra at 2–3.

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