Opinion in Bellitto v. American Civil Rights Union:
The National Voter Registration Act requires state election officials to make a reasonable effort to remove certain ineligible registrants from the voter rolls.
The American Civil Rights Union (“ACRU”) claims that Brenda Snipes, the former Broward County Supervisor of Elections, failed to satisfy her list-maintenance obligations. The district court, after a bench trial, concluded that the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”) requires a reasonable effort to remove only those voters who become ineligible because of death or change of address an that Snipes reasonably conducted a program to do just that. ACRU appeals from those determinations.
This appeal requires us to answer three related legal questions. First, is the NVRA’s list-maintenance mandate confined to removing voters who become ineligible because they moved or died, or does the mandate extend to other bases of ineligibility as well, such as mental incapacity or criminal conviction? Second, does anything in the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”) broaden the NVRA’s listmaintenance obligations? And finally, does the National Change of Address procedure outlined in the NVRA create a safe harbor for reasonable list maintenance regarding voters who have moved? As for the first question, the statute could not be clearer: the states and their subsidiaries are required to conduct a general program of list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove voters who become ineligible on account of death or change of residence, and only on those two accounts. And nothing found in HAVA — the latest congressional codification addressing voter registration — changes what is required by the NVRA; indeed, HAVA repeatedly references compliance with the NVRA’s list-maintenance mandates. Finally, the NVRA sets forth an explicit safe-harbor procedure by which the states may fulfill their list-maintenance obligations as t voters who move.
Moreover, after thoroughly reviewing this record and having taken oral argument, we can discern no clear error in the district court’s factua findings. As the trial court found, Snipes employed the statute’s safe-harbor provision when she examined who may have changed his or her address in Broward County, and sh also utilized reliable death records from the Florida Department of Health and the Social Security administration to identify and regularly remove deceased voters.
The NVRA requires a reasonable effort to remove only those voters who become ineligible because of death or change of address. Based on the record developed in the five-day bench trial, the district court did not clearly err in finding that Broward’s Election Supervisor conducted a program reasonably designed to accomplish these tasks. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
I’ve watched this case, and my impression is that the key to winning this case was the expert testimony U. Fl. Prof. Dan Smith, who was able to point out the flaws in the methodology of ACRU’s expert, Steven Camarota. See pages 32-38.