Consent Decree Requires NYC Board of Elections To Restore The Rights Of Unlawfully Purged Voters
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 25, 2017 — Pending approval by the court, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Latino Justice PRLDEF reached a settlement in a voting rights case that was filed on the eve of the November 2016 election on behalf of voters who were illegally purged from the registration rolls in New York City. The pending settlement restores voters to the rolls and puts in place a comprehensive remedial program to prevent the improper purging of voters in future elections.
“This important victory sets forth a course correction in New York City, where more than 100,000 voters were improperly purged from the rolls,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Across the country, we are seeing officials purge legitimately registered voters from the rolls despite the prohibitions contained in the National Voter Registration Act. We will continue to fight against these policies to ensure that the rights of voters are preserved.”
The settlement is in response to a lawsuit filed in November 2016 by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with partners LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Dechert LLP. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of individual plaintiffs and Common Cause New York against the New York City Board of Elections (NYC BOE), sought to restore the voting rights of New York City voters improperly removed from the rolls in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. This included the more than 117,000 registered voters removed from the voter registration rolls prior to the April 2016 primary election by the NYC BOE’s Brooklyn Borough Office.
This is a true victory for all New York City voters, including Latinx voters in Brooklyn, who first raised concerns with Latino Justice PRLDEF about the potentially discriminatory effect of the voter purges in early 2016,” said Joanna E. Cuevas Ingram, associate counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The consent decree and settlement now provide necessary oversight, including standard procedures and protocols to prevent unlawful removals, and critical enforcement remedies to ensure that all eligible voters, including Latinx voters, are equally able to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”
“Today’s settlement represents an important victory for the future of New York City elections. New Yorkers deserve a system that lives up to their appropriately high expectations, and Common Cause/NY is here to make sure that’s what they get. Voting should be an easily accessible right instead of subject to unnecessary obstacles,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
“We are thrilled to have partnered with Common Cause, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and LatinoJustice PRLDEF in achieving this tremendous victory for all voters in New York City, and look forward to continuing to work with the pro bono to ensure the voting rights of all eligible citizens across the country,” said Neil A. Steiner, partner, Dechert LLP
In the settlement agreement, the NYC BOE conceded that the removal of the named plaintiffs, as well as members of Common Cause New York, violated federal and state law. The NYC BOE agreed to reinstate all voters that have been improperly removed from the rolls and to adopt policies preventing any future improper purges from occurring. Finally, the NYC BOE agreed to:
- Place the NYC BOE under a consent decree that will last at least through the November 2020 election.
- Adopt detailed procedures to ensure that eligible voters are not designated for removal in error, identify procedures used for reinstating improperly removed voters, and produce monthly and annual reports identifying the voters who are being removed the rolls or otherwise subjected to list maintenance.
- Develop a centralized process allowing the NYC BOE to review voter registration data from borough offices, adopt a training program for list maintenance, and update training manuals and materials.
- Conduct an annual audit of list maintenance procedures, and permit the New York Attorney General’s office to conduct semi-annual audits.
- Other enforcement remedies, such as allowing Plaintiffs the ability to object to Board rules or regulations related to list maintenance that fails to ensure compliance with federal law.
As a result of the Lawyers’ Committee and Latino Justice PRLDEF lawsuit, filed five days before the November 2016 election, the NYC BOE previously consented to provide various forms of notice to poll workers and voters for the November 2016 election. The NYC BOE also agreed to send absentee ballots to individual plaintiffs who had been improperly purged from the registration list.
A copy of the draft settlement is available online.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
About LatinoJustice PRLDEF:
LatinoJustice PRLDEF, originally established as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) in 1972, is one of the foremost national nonprofit civil rights legal defense and education funds working to advance, promote, and protect the legal rights of Latina/os throughout the nation. Our work is focused on addressing systemic discrimination and ensuring equal access to justice in the advancement of voting rights, housing rights, educational equity, immigrant rights, language access rights, employment rights, and workplace justice, seeking to address all forms of discriminatory bias that adversely impact Latina/os. For more information on LatinoJustice, please visit: www.latinojustice.org.