A “conservative legal watchdog group” has targeted Maryland’s largest county in its latest effort to force election officials to purge voter rolls in a hasty and potentially illegal manner. But, the group’s request for action, if granted, could result in taking actions that violate the very law they cite in their notice letter and could result in the disenfranchisement of eligible citizens.
The group, Judicial Watch, recently threatened to sue the Maryland State Board of Elections (SBE) for purported violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), unless the board takes unspecified action to remove registrations from Montgomery County’s voter rolls. The group did not appear to have inquired into the state or county’s existing procedures before making its threats.
On Thursday, the SBE met to discuss the group’s letter. Project Vote and Demos submitted a letter to SBE in response, expressing concern and correcting misstatements and errors in Judicial Watch’s letter. Project Vote Election Counsel Michelle Kanter Cohen also testified at the meeting, noting that careful list maintenance under the law is important, that the NVRA’s chief purpose is to protect eligible voters, and as a result, the law builds in protections that require specific safeguards before removing voters from the rolls.
But Judicial Watch’s demands for the state to avoid litigation were nothing more than laying groundwork for proposed voter suppression.
For example, the group suggested that the state should follow in the footsteps of Ohio, which settled a lawsuit with them in 2014. In that settlement, Ohio agreed to continue a process that was ultimately held to violate the NVRA’s protections for eligible voters, by illegally targeting and removing voters from the rolls simply because they chose not to vote. That process would have disenfranchised thousands of otherwise eligible citizens had a federal appellate court not held the practice illegal, ironically under the very law Judicial Watch cites.
Overall, voter list maintenance is an integral part of our election system. We must implement it with care, under the law, and with the utmost respect for citizens.
Stay tuned for an update on the State Board of Elections decision on how to move forward with the state of Maryland’s voter rolls.