Lost in the uproar last week over a written request by a White House commission for state voter registration lists was another letter sent that same day. It came from the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), and asked states for details on how they’re complying with a requirement in the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) — also known as the motor-voter law — that election officials keep their voting lists accurate and up to date. The timing and focus of the two letters — one from the commission and the other from DOJ — has made some voter advocacy groups nervous about what the Trump administration is up to, and whether its ultimate goal is to weaken or revamp the motor voter law. “It’s very concerning,” said Brenda Wright, vice president of policy and legal strategies at Demos, a liberal advocacy group that’s been fighting state efforts to purge voters from the rolls. Wright notes that the main purpose of the motor voter law is to expand opportunities to register to vote, but that millions of eligible Americans are still unregistered.
… David Becker, who now runs the Center for Election Innovation and Research, was the author of the Pew report and said states could do more to clean up their voter rolls and get rid of inaccurate registrations, especially for those who have moved or passed away. He estimated there could still be hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of outdated registrations. But, he added, “I think also, very importantly, we know from the extensive research on voter fraud, that those people aren’t voting.”
Becker, a former DOJ attorney, also wonders about the timing of the two letters to states seeking information about their voter rolls, and whether it’s a sign of coordination between the Justice Department and the voting commission on what to do about the motor voter law.
He says the DOJ letter, especially, seems to indicate a shift in focus from enforcing provisions intended to expand registration to those requiring list maintenance.