Court Upholds Ruling Against Indiana’s Voter Roll Purges

The Court of Appeals found that Indiana’s purge law was inconsistent with the federal Motor Voter law, legislation that Congress
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Photo: Twitter\Roland Martin

Yesterday the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in League of Women Voters of Indiana v. Sullivan (previously called Indiana NAACP v. Lawson), rejecting the state of Indiana’s appeal of the lower court’s summary judgment order.

The Court of Appeals found that Indiana’s purge law was inconsistent with the federal Motor Voter law, legislation that Congress passed in 1993 to increase voter registration across the country. While that federal law, the National Voter Registration Act, could be improved, it continues to block state legislation that undermines voting access.

Indiana’s purge law would have allowed the state to remove Indiana registrants from the list of eligible voters without direct communication from the voter and without following the notice and waiting period required by the National Voter Registration Act.

“We won again in this four-year-old lawsuit on behalf of Indiana’s voters,” said Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the Indiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “The laws Indiana passed in 2017 and 2020 risked improper purges of Indiana voters, particularly Black and brown voters. This decision is a win for democracy and racial justice.”

On behalf of the Indiana NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Indiana, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law filed suit over Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 442, an Indiana law that violated the National Voter Registration Act's protections against wrongful voter removals. A federal district court preliminarily enjoined SEA 442 in 2018, and the Seventh Circuit upheld this injunction in 2019. In 2020, Indiana passed a new law, SEA 334, to amend SEA 442. Plaintiffs argued that the new law violated the NVRA in precisely the same manner as the earlier version, and the federal courts once again agreed.

“Voter rolls need maintenance, but that work must be done reasonably and with care so that voters’ rights are protected,” said Linda Hanson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Indiana. “Indiana’s purge law would have put eligible voters at risk of being dropped from the rolls. That’s wrong. Indiana’s voters deserve better.”

In yesterday's ruling, the Seventh Circuit found that SEA 334 “reestablishes the precise scheme we found wanting” in its first ruling on the case, once again violating the National Voter Registration Act, which, as the court previously explained, is designed to ensure that voter list maintenance “does not wind up disenfranchising American voters.”

“A person’s vote is her voice. The Seventh Circuit has again affirmed that Indiana can’t do an end-run around federal law designed to protect voters,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, Voting Rights and Elections counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The state of Indiana should not be taking shortcuts around voters’ rights.”

The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court, directing the lower court to revise the permanent injunction consistent with Seventh Circuit’s opinion.

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, and Trent A. McCain of McCain Law Offices, P.C., are co-counsel in the case.

For yesterday’s ruling and more information about Indiana NAACP and League of Women Voters of Indiana v. Lawson, visit the Brennan Center’s case page.

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