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A federal district court in New York agreed today that Common Cause New York, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the law firm of Dechert LLP, may proceed with its lawsuit challenging the treatment of millions of New York voters.
The legal challenge was brought in the aftermath of reports of widespread, pervasive problems experienced by New York voters during the 2016 elections, including voters who showed up at the polls only to find out that their names were not listed in the registers kept at the polling stations. Even though the State kept these voters on a central registry maintained at local boards’ of elections’ offices, many of these voters were not given the opportunity to vote, even by affidavit ballot.
“This case is yet another example of how New York’s outdated policies disenfranchise untold thousands of eligible voters in clear violation of federal voting rights laws,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “The court’s ruling recognizes that all voters have access to protection under the National Voter Registration Act if they are denied an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. But much work remains to be done to combat the effects of New York’s antiquated voting laws and procedures and ensure that every legitimate voter can exercise his or her fundamental rights.”
The Complaint alleges that large numbers of eligible voters who are in “inactive” status are regularly disenfranchised because election officials fail to properly use fail-safe affidavit ballot procedures designed to protect all eligible voters’ right to cast a ballot. The problems faced by inactive voters have been acknowledged by the New York Attorney General’s Office in briefing recently submitted to the United States Supreme Court in a separate case, as well as by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who initiated extensive, non-partisan outreach to more than 561,000 inactive voters in New York City in advance of the 2018 elections. Inactive voters were among the many who reported problems trying to vote in New York during the recent primary election held on September 13th.
In its ruling today, the court rejected the State’s argument that voters who are disenfranchised due to a “de facto removal” from the voter registration list have not suffered an injury under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Judge Alison J. Nathan declined to dismissCommon Cause/New York’s complaint’s as-applied NVRA claim, observing that its charges concerning affidavit balloting deficiencies are supported by allegations from the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
“We are gratified that Judge Nathan has ruled that Plaintiffs can proceed to prove that the failure to inform New York voters in ‘inactive status’ about their right to vote by affidavit balloting can constitute a deficient practice which violates the federal National Voter Registration Act,” stated Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
“As Judge Nathan recognized today, federal law guarantees the right of qualified voters to participate 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. “We look forward to litigating this case and to establishing that all eligible New York voters have an opportunity to cast their ballot as required by the National Voter Registration Act.”
Over the past month, we’ve collected a variety of complaints from voters, but the most concerning come from New Yorkers who’d voted as recently in the June primaries and then could not vote in September,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “Some appear to have been involuntarily dis-enrolled from their party, and others showed up at their poll site to find their names mysteriously missing from the rolls. Thanks to today’s court ruling, we are one step closer to holding the NYC Board of Elections accountable and ensuring voters get the justice they deserve. We are pleased that the court confirmed Common Cause/NY’s standing to help voters address this continuing problem.”
The full opinion can be seen here: Common Cause/New York v. Robert A. Brehm et al.