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NPR: DOJ Accused of Partisan Voter-Roll Purge

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

As Americans prepare to head to the polls in 2008, the fact remains that our voter turnout isn’t good. The United States ranks near the bottom of all countries (139th of 172) when turnout is averaged over the last half century. So Pam Fessler’s report tonight on NPR is pretty serious stuff, whatever way you look at it.

Fessler outlines accusations dating to 2005 of Justice Department involvement in the practice known as voter caging, the systematic purging of large numbers of voters by using shady practices. Michele Norris introduced the piece with these words: “A big challenge for the next Attorney General will be showing that the Justice Department’s enforcement of voting laws is not political.” That’s pretty strong language, and Fessler’s piece is both revealing and concerning. It brings up similar questions to those raised by a PBS report we discussed here recently. From the story transcript:

In 2005, the Justice Department began an aggressive campaign to enforce a requirement that states clean up their voter registration rolls by deleting any duplications and the names of those who have left the state or died. The department filed suit against four states and questioned several others.

Questions have since been raised about how the DOJ enforced the clean-ups.

As with other states, Justice Department officials had compared North Carolina’s registration lists with Census figures and found more people registered in some areas than there were voting-age residents. On the surface, it was a legitimate concern. But [North Carolina Election Director Gary] Bartlett says the figures were old, and didn’t take into account areas — such as college towns — where students can vote, but might not be counted in the Census. There were also inactive voters who, by law, must be kept on the rolls for several years before they can be removed.

The Justice Department denies any wrongdoing in the piece, and points to efforts to bolster voter registration efforts in 18 states. For the audio and complete transcript of the NPR story, head over to NPR.

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