The “Motor Voter” law was passed in 1993 to promote greater voter registration in the United States. It did this — most Americans now know from visits to the DMV — by requiring states to offer voter registration materials whenever someone had contact with a variety of state offices. These included welfare offices, social service agencies, and motor vehicle departments.
A lesser-known provision also obliged the states to ensure that no ineligible voters were on the rolls — including dead people, felons, and people who had moved. Our current Department of Justice is anxious to encourage the obligations to get everyone registered, but explicitly unwilling to enforce federal law requiring states to remove the dead or ineligible from the rolls.
In November 2009, the entire Voting Section was invited to a meeting with Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes, a political employee serving at the pleasure of the attorney general. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Motor Voter enforcement decisions.
The room was packed with dozens of Voting Section employees when she made her announcement regarding the provisions related to voter list integrity:
We have no interest in enforcing this provision of the law. It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it.
Jaws dropped around the room.
It is one thing to silently adopt a lawless policy of refusing to enforce a provision of federal law designed to bring integrity to elections. It is quite another to announce the lawlessness to a room full of people who have sworn an oath to fairly enforce the law.
Worse yet, it is a broken campaign promise by Barack Obama, and I’m sure he would not be happy to have heard the announcement. After all, his Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez has been traveling around the country bashing the Bush-era Department of Justice. Perez says as often as he can:
Those who had been entrusted with the keys to the division treated it like a buffet line at the cafeteria, cherry-picking which laws to enforce.
Yet at this meeting, Ms. Fernandes openly relished her time at the buffet line in the Voting Section cafeteria.
The problem with this sort of lawlessness, apart from the fact that it is becoming a trend in this administration, is that it nullifies the important compromise that Congress reached in 1993. Greater access to registration came by turning welfare agencies into voter registration offices, but the law also included provisions to ensure greater integrity. It is a dangerous development for our electoral system when one part of that compromise is tossed overboard by a bureaucrat.
It will be impossible for this purportedly transparent administration to deny this direction was given. There were dozens of good people in the room that I know care more about the truth than about saving Ms. Fernandes’ career.
Plus, the cases the Justice Department has brought — or not brought — corroborate the account: the Department has not filed a single case under the Motor Voter provision where there are problems.
Are there problems with list integrity? Yes, but that’s a story for another article. Even worse than not bringing cases, the Holder Justice Department has dismissed a case against Missouri that the previous administration had started. In many places in Missouri, there are more voters than humans with a heartbeat old enough to vote. Instead of fully litigating the case to a favorable outcome, the DOJ made it go away, nicely, quietly, completely. Sound familiar?
The blame-Bush instincts of this administration will no doubt lead to talk about all the cases the Bush DOJ didn’t bring to open up public welfare agencies to voter registration. Good luck. I’d suggest citizens go online and see the Section 7 NVRA, or “Motor Voter,” cases that were commenced under the Bush administration. Bush brought voter registration cases under Motor Voter against Arizona and Illinois.
This Justice Department, in contrast, has “cherry picked” which parts of Motor Voter law they will enforce. You wouldn’t think it has anything to do with politics or the upcoming elections, would you?