Tomorrow I will be speaking at Tulane University Law School at 5 p.m. about Eric Holder’s selective enforcement of federal election laws. The Voting Section at the Justice Department has brought a lawsuit against Louisiana under Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act, claiming the Jindal administration doesn’t do enough to get people in welfare offices, food stamp centers, cash assistance offices and drug treatment centers registered to vote. The Department has deployed some very heavy handed tactics in the Louisiana case and, like in Rhode Island, will no doubt seek a remedy far beyond what Federal law requires.
So far the Jindal administration has refused to concede an inch. They should continue to force DOJ to prove their case at trial, like states around the country are now doing when it comes to Civil Rights Division actions. (Consider the tough position of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in the last few weeks.)
The Section 7 lawsuit against the Jindal administration would be more credible if the same Voting Section at Justice enforced Section 8 of Motor Voter (NVRA), the provision requiring states to clean up dead people, ineligible felons, and people who have moved away from the voter rolls. Unfortunately, the Voting Section these days isn’t in the credibility business.
In November of 2009, (as I discuss in my book Injustice), former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes told the entire Voting Section the Obama administration “wasn’t interested in enforcing Section 8.” Former Voting Section Chief Chris Coates testified under oath that he recommended investigations into eight states with serious problems with the integrity of the voter rolls in 2009, but those investigations were spiked by Obama political appointees uninterested in enforcing all federal laws.
Obviously the Obama Justice Department is very interested in ensuring that people receiving welfare, drug treatment and cash assistance register to vote by suing Louisiana under Section 7. But what about problems with the voter rolls in the same state? What about enforcing Section 8 of NVRA?
Five parishes in Louisiana have more people on the voter rolls than they have citizens eligible to vote. In Cameron Parish, the number is 118%, in Tensas Parish, 108%. Others parishes with problems include St. Helena, St. Bernard, Orleans, St. Landry and Plaquemnes. This means there are more people on the rolls than people alive old enough to vote.
But no matter, this DOJ has priorities, and it isn’t election integrity. As Julie Fernandes put it, “we are only interested in laws which increase turnout.”
DOJ could have added a simple additional Section 8 cause of action demanding these parishes clean up their voter rolls.
Enter Louisiana Senator David Vitter. Today Vitter fired off a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding a course reversal. The full text of the letter and press release is here.
From Vitter’s press release:
U.S. Sen. David Vitter today called on the U.S. Department of Justice to be consistent in their efforts to enforce the National Voter Registration Act. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Vitter highlights that DOJ has recently filed a lawsuit against Louisiana alleging the state has not complied with Section 7 of NVRA, yet has done nothing to enforce Section 8 in other states. . . .
“If the Department of Justice is going to come down to Louisiana with undercover investigators to check on one section of voter registration law – the other sections better get enforced too,” Vitter said. “They can’t just pick and choose which sections to enforce, but unfortunately that’s preciously what they’re doing. They’re allowing some states to keep felons, illegal aliens and dead people on their voter rolls, which is a clear violation of the law.”
From Senator Vitter’s letter to Eric Holder:
The Department later filed a lawsuit against Louisiana alleging that the state has violated its obligations under Section 7 of the NVRA.
However, at the same time, absolutely no effort is being made to enforce Section 8 of the same law. Section 8 requires states to conduct voter roll cleaning to purge ineligible felons and dead voters from corrupting the election process. The two provisions act together as counterparts, but it is evident that the Justice Department is not enforcing them equally.
Section 8 is a key component of the law, because the longer these fraudulent names remain on a registration list, the greater the chances that a fraudulent vote will be cast in their names. As we approach an important presidential election in 2012, your dedication to enforcing both sections of the law to avoid fraud is paramount.
In recent years there have been reports that the administration is not interested in enforcing the Section 8 provision of the law. Christopher Coates, former Chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that Julie Fernandez, who was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 2009, told the Voting Section that the Obama administration was not interested in issues related to Section 8 and list maintenance enforcement activity.
I hear that DOJ, facing so much heat on this issue, is considering a course reversal. DOJ may start demanding that states clean up their voter rolls, but only because so much heat has been delivered in the media and from Congress. Expect DOJ to wait until the last possible moment, when it will be hardest to enforce the law adequately ahead of the 2012 election. Naturally, expect a timid approach to any DOJ action, nothing like the zeal and fury that accompanies a Section 7 welfare agency lawsuit.