News Release

Michigan and Ohio Voter Issues


The Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Michigan and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit challenging two statewide voter purge programs in advance of the November 2008 presidential election.

Bradley Heard is a senior attorney with the Advancement Project, which released the following statement: “Under one voter removal program, the Michigan Department of State, which administers both driver’s license and voter registration records, immediately cancels the voter registrations of Michigan voters who obtain driver’s licenses in other states instead of issuing the appropriate confirmation of registration notices and following the other voter removal procedures required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). According to the Department’s own estimations, over 280,000 voters per year are removed from the rolls in this manner. … Under the second voter removal program, a Michigan state law requires local clerks to nullify the registrations of newly-registered voters whenever their original voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable. Detroit elections officials report that nearly 30,000 voters per year in that city alone are removed from the rolls as a result of this state election law, which violates the NVRA and other federal and state laws. The NVRA permits voters to remain on the voter rolls for at least two federal elections after voter registration cards are returned.

“Students and young adults generally are much more transient than older adults, are much more likely to have driver’s licenses from different states than their colleges, and are much more likely to live in multi-unit housing, such as dormitories and apartments. Anyone who has lived in these types of housing knows that the mail can sometimes be very unreliable and unpredictable. It’s just not fair to deny someone the right to vote just because they are an out-of-state student or they don’t get a piece of mail.”

Bradley added today: “The Advancement Project and its coalition partners have repeatedly advised Michigan Secretary of State Terri Land’s office that these voter purge programs are unlawful, yet the State has refused to bring its practices into compliance. We brought this lawsuit to ensure that the voting rights of Michigan residents would not be infringed upon during these historic presidential elections.”
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Wasserman is co-author of the books What Happened in Ohio? and As Goes Ohio. He stated today: “Assuring the right to vote in Ohio could determine who enters the White House in January. Thousands of voting rights advocates are working this year in Ohio and elsewhere to end these abuses. However, many problems remain and threaten our democracy.

“In the run-up to the 2004 elections, GOP-controlled Boards of Elections in Ohio eliminated some 308,000 registered voters from the rolls used at the polls to determine whether or not citizens are eligible to vote. The purges were conducted in heavily Democratic districts in Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Lucas (Toledo) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) Counties. The numbers of voters eliminated represented more than 5 percent of the 5.4 million Ohioans who voted in 2004. The GOP also challenged the right of some 35,000 registered voters to cast ballots, based largely on letters the Republicans sent to voters which then came back undelivered, thus allowing them to claim the lack of a valid address. Challenges were also issued to prevent thousands of ex-felons from voting, even though there is no state law disenfranchising them. Overall, the removals far exceeded Bush’s official victory margin of less than 119,000 votes. After the 2004 election, another 170,000 voters were eliminated in Franklin (Columbus) County, also now heavily Democratic.

“Throughout Ohio’s 88 counties, GOP-controlled Boards of Elections have continued ‘caging’ registered voters by sending them notices requiring that the post office return those that cannot be delivered. A loophole in Ohio law allows partisan challengers to then demand that the names of those whose forms come back be eliminated from the voter rolls. … In many cases those removed are soldiers currently serving in Iraq.”

Wasserman added: “Despite massive grassroots voter registration drives, those voters have never been restored to the registration lists. None were notified when they were eliminated, and no public accounting has been made of exactly who was disenfranchised. Parallel purges were used in Florida 2000, and throughout the U.S. in 2004.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167