WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, July 19, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana barring a state law that purges Indiana voters from registration rolls without following adequate procedures in violation of federal law. The win for voting rights comes after five years of litigation challenging two separate attempts by the state to cancel voters’ registration without following federal law.
Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 442, which removed voters from registration rolls using an interstate residency database without following federal guidelines provided by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), was initially challenged by various voting rights groups in 2017 by the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Indiana and Common Cause Indiana in two separate cases. In 2019, the district court blocked the law in both cases, finding that SEA 442 violated the NVRA by failing to provide adequate written confirmation and notice procedures about possible registration cancellation. Upon consolidated appeal, the 7th Circuit upheld the district court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
However, the Indiana Legislature persisted in attempting to remove voters from the rolls without following NVRA guidelines by drafting a new law, SEA 334, that repealed SEA 442 but essentially enacted the same voter purge processes as the prohibited law. SEA 334 implemented a similar system as before to check for duplicate voters, but still allowed for “cancellation of a voter’s registration without any direct contact with the registered voter.” The plaintiffs challenged this law and the district court found that SEA 334, like SEA 442, violated the procedural safeguards provided by the NVRA and permanently prohibited Indiana from implementing SEA 334. The state appealed this to the 7th Circuit, which agreed with the district court that “net result [of SEA 334] is continued inconsistency with the NVRA.” The case goes back down to the district court, which has to redefine what constitutes adequate “communication” from a voter about their registration status.