DETROIT— After more than a year and a half of litigation, the state of Michigan and a coalition of voting rights groups, that includes Advancement Project, have reached a settlement; as a result, the state will end two voter purge programs that unlawfully disfranchised tens of thousands of Michigan voters. One program automatically canceled the voter registration of any Michigan voter who obtained a driver’s licenses in another state, without following the appropriate voter removal procedures required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The other program, which similarly violated the NVRA, immediately canceled the voter registration of any Michigan voter whose original voter registration ID card was returned by the post office as undeliverable. In September 2008, Advancement Project and a coalition of other voting rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the United States Student Association Foundation, ACLU of Michigan, and Michigan State Conference of the NAACP. As part of the settlement, the state has also agreed to pay the plaintiffs $150,000 in attorneys’ fees.
In accordance with the NVRA, the state must now confirm that voters have moved out of Michigan before purging the registration of any voter that obtains an out-of-state driver’s license. After voters’ registration cards are returned as undeliverable, Michigan must keep these voters on the rolls for at least two federal general election cycles. A voter’s registration card may be returned as undeliverable for a variety of reasons, many of which are not the fault of the voter. This period allows such individuals the opportunity to verify or change their registration address when voting on Election Day.
In October 2008, a U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the state to temporarily suspend those two practices, pending the outcome of the lawsuit. The settlement is significant because it permanently ends the two purge programs that may have removed as many as 77,000 voters a year from the voter rolls. Prior to the settlement, Advancement Project and others had convinced the state to self-impose a ban on the driver’s license purge program. Nevertheless, the state maintained its right to resume purging voters for undeliverable mail and, to that end, sought to challenge the plaintiffs’ legal standing in court.
Bradley Heard, senior attorney at Advancement Project, declares that, “this is a true victory for Michigan voters. No longer will eligible and registered voters have to worry about being stricken from the rolls without notice simply because they didn’t receive a piece of mail or because they needed a license or ID card in another state. We are happy that the State of Michigan finally agreed to right these wrongful practices.”