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Hartford Seeks To Dismiss Court Order Governing Voter List


July 11, 2013

HARTFORD The city and its registrars of voters are seeking to dismiss a two-decades-old federal court order requiring the registrars' office to take extra precautions so residents particularly those of Latino background aren't unfairly purged from the registered voters list.

The city has filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Connecticut for relief from the 1992 judgment, which mandates that the registrars hire more canvassers, hire Spanish-speaking canvassers, cross-check voter addresses with additional city and state agencies and make more than one attempt to verify voters' addresses before removing their names from the registered voters list. The American Civil Liberties Union, formerly known as the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, in 1991 sued the city and won, saying the city improperly removed names from the list.

The union at the time charged that city registrars purged thousands of voters from the list without making sufficient attempts to determine their whereabouts. Many of the voters were still living in Hartford, particularly in Latino neighborhoods.

City officials contend that a change in voting laws has since corrected the issues that the court order intended to address. In 1994, the city's motion points out, the state adopted new voting procedures to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. The act created an inactive voter registry list in addition to the active list and changed the procedure for removing registry names. Specifically, voters must confirm in writing that they no longer live in Hartford before their names can be removed (unless removal is due to death or being disenfranchised), court papers say.

The act also allows residents to remain on the inactive voter list for up to four years. Previously, registrars could take a name off the list if they had reason to believe that person had moved.

The ACLU of Connecticut this week filed court papers opposing the city's motion. The group said the city still hasn't fully complied with the court order, and that the change in voting laws doesn't conflict with the terms of the judgment.

"There is every indication that this discriminatory disenfranchisement has continued to date and that the judgment is still sorely needed to ensure that all Hartford residents have equal access to the polls," Sandra Staub, legal director for the ACLU of Connecticut, said in a statement.

Officials at the ACLU, citing numbers from the secretary of the state, said 17 percent of registered voters in Hartford were on the inactive list as of October 2012. During the last election in November, voters whose names appeared on the city's inactive list were sent from various neighborhood polling locations to city hall, where they waited for several hours to get back onto the active voters list, ACLU officials said.

"The process of being restored to the active voting list can be particularly harrowing on Election Day, which is often the first time a voter discovers that he or she has been listed as inactive," Staub wrote in the opposition motion. "Although the restoration procedure can and should be streamlined, on information and belief many voters whose names have been purged from the active list are required under the current plan to wait in a long line at city hall with unregistered voters to determine whether they will be able to cast their vote."

Voters listed as inactive are not counted for administrative purposes, affecting the number of poll workers hired, the number of committee seats to be filled in each voting district and the estimated number of voters for the next election, the opposition motion states.

Latino voters in Hartford "have continued to report incidents in which they are told at their polling places that they have been moved to the inactive list, despite never having received any mailed, telephonic or personal canvass notice," Staub wrote in court papers.

The registrars also "failed to maintain the inactive list and keep it available for public inspection as required," she said.

The registrars' office faced financial woes in the 2012-13 fiscal year after its budget was cut by $180,000. The city froze spending during the last month of the fiscal year and has proposed cutting registrars' pay.

But ACLU officials said the city can't ignore the court order because of money problems.

"Although defendants in the past claimed the cost of adherence to the judgment is greater than the beneficial results," Staub wrote, "the city's budget concerns are not adequate justification for the disenfranchisement of a large sector of its voting population."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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