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Colorado Sued To Reverse Voter Purges

Colorado Voting rights groups sue the Republican Secretary of State to restore between 16,000 and 30,000 voters who were illegally purged this fall.
 
 
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Advancement Project, a national voter protection organization, and others filed a lawsuit on behalf of Colorado Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota, a non-partisan civic engagement campaign, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) against Colorado Secretary of State, Mike Coffman, to challenge an illegal purges and cancellation practices that apparently have removed between 16,000 and 30,000 voters from Colorado’s rolls.

"These purge programs violate a federal law that is intended to protect eligible voters from being swept off the rolls," said Penda Hair, co-director, Advancement Project. "The state admits engaging in these practices and purging thousands of voters’ registration records without notice. We felt that filing this action was the only way we could ensure that thousands of Colorado residents would not show up at the polls on Election Day only to find they could not participate in this historic national election."

Advancement Project is challenging two types of purging practices by the state as violations of the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA).

First, Secretary Coffman has implemented a Colorado law requiring cancellation of new registrations when a non-forwardable notice sent by mail to the voter is returned as undeliverable within 20 days of receipt of the registration application. As recently determined by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, a state law mandating cancellation of new voter registrations because a mailed notice was returned as undeliverable violates the NVRA and cannot be enforced. These 20-day cancellations have removed several thousand eligible voters. Coffman has admitted, 1,136 of these voters were purged between July 21 and October 9. Moreover, his records show that 3,291 of these voters have been purged since August 2007.

Second, in an action not required by any Colorado law, the Secretary of State has removed tens of thousands of voters from the official voter rolls after August 4, 2008, in violation of the NVRA, which bans systematic removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, except for narrowly specified reasons. Secretary Coffman issued a statement on October 9, 2008 admitting that at least 12,000 voters have been purged from the rolls within this period for reasons not permitted by the NVRA. More importantly, Advancement Project has substantial evidence that during the NVRA’s 90 day no-purge period, defendant Secretary of State actually removed more than 20,000 voters’ registration records from Colorado’s voting rolls, in addition to the 1,892 who were removed for the NVRA-allowed reasons because of death, incarceration for a felony, or withdrawal.

"Our concern is that the systematic removal of voters will continue up to November 4, 2008, potentially barring even more voters from the polls," said Jessie Allen, senior attorney, Advancement Project. "Purge programs of this type are a blatant violation of federal law. The state of Colorado is obligated to follow the rules set for all states by the NVRA to protect voting rights."

The lawsuit asks the court to grant relief that would:

  • Discontinue purging any voters from the official list of eligible voters for any reason not allowed by the NVRA between now and November 4, 2008;
  • Identify and reinstate any and all voters who were improperly purged from the official list of registered voters during the 90 day no-purge period, except those exempted by the NVRA, and all voters disqualified through the illegal cancellation procedure based on return of the single registration card.

"The state of Colorado is breaking the law." concluded Hair. "It is the fundamental right of every eligible voter to participate in elections that determine who will represent them in their government. Federal law protects that right with limits on voter cancellation practices. All we are asking is for the state to comply with those well recognized limits."

For a copy of the complaint, click here.

Advancement Project's core purpose is to develop, encourage, pioneer and widely disseminate innovative ideas and models that inspire and mobilize a broad national racial justice movement so that universal opportunity and a just democracy are achieved. The organization was founded on the principle that structural racism can be eliminated and a racially just democracy may be attained through multi-racial collective action by organized communities.