Fitton: Victory — Consent Decree Requires Kentucky to Clean Up Election Rolls

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Judicial Watch has taken the lead nationwide in defending state voter ID laws and other commonsense election integrity measures, filing amicus briefs in the Supreme Court and in several circuit courts of appeal and trial courts.

They supported North Carolina’s implementation of its election integrity reform laws, most recently filing amicus briefs in the Supreme Court in March 2017. And the Supreme Court recently upheld efforts by Ohio to maintain accurate voting rolls, which were part of a historic settlement with Judicial Watch.

Now Judicial Watch can announce another victory. A federal court judge has issued a consent decree directing the Commonwealth of Kentucky to remove the names of ineligible voters no longer in residence from its official voter registration lists. U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove of the Eastern District of Kentucky, Central Division, signed the consent decree between Judicial Watch, Kentucky and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

The state of Kentucky has consented to clean its voter rolls of ineligible names in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

The Kentucky State Board of Elections shall develop and implement a general program of statewide voter list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove from the statewide voter registration list the names of registrants who have become ineligible due to a change in residence in accord with section 8 of the NVRA.


Kentucky State Board of Elections shall create a Comprehensive Plan and implement and adhere to its terms.

The decree instructs that the plan is to include:

  • Procedures for a general program of list maintenance
  • Sources of information used regularly
  • Procedures for sending a nonforwardable canvass mailing
  • Procedures for using the data that is successfully matched to the statewide voter registration list
  • Timing of notices and updates
  • List of registrants to whom notices have been sent.
  • Procedures for removing from the statewide voter registration list any registrant who is mailed a notice
  • A description of databases to be used in list maintenance activities and a plan to consult with relevant database managers, assess the quality of data to be used in list maintenance activities, and develop sound and reliable matching criteria
  • Procedures for maintaining and making available for inspection and copying the records concerning implementation of the general program activities
  • A detailed description of any role that local election officials may play in list maintenance activities.
  • Public outreach

In November 2017, Judicial Watch sued Kentucky over its failure to take reasonable steps to maintain accurate voter registration lists (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Alison Lundergan Grimes et al.(No. 3:17-cv-00094)). In June 2018, with Judicial Watch’s consent, the Justice Department moved to intervene in the lawsuit against Kentucky.

Their lawsuit argued that 48 Kentucky counties had more registered voters than citizens over the age of 18. The suit noted that Kentucky was one of only three states in which the statewide active registration rate is greater than 100% of the age-eligible citizen population.

Judicial Watch pointed out that Kentucky’s inflated voter rolls indicated that it was not complying with federal laws requiring it to cancel the registrations of citizens who have died or moved elsewhere. This conclusion was bolstered by Kentucky’s failure to divulge registration-related records as required by federal law.

In April 2017, they sent notice-of-violation letters threatening to sue Kentucky and ten other state and local jurisdictions for having more registered voters than citizens of voting age, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Judicial Watch sued Kentucky later that year. In 2018, the Justice Department also contacted Kentucky regarding its failure to comply with Section 8’s list maintenance requirements.

The Kentucky win is the first statewide consent decree ever issued in a Section 8 lawsuit started by private litigants. They previously filed successful NVRA lawsuits against Ohio and Indiana, causing those states voluntarily to clean up their voting rolls.

They also sued the State of Maryland and Montgomery County over their failure to release documents in violation of the NVRA, as well as California and Los Angeles County for their failure to clean their voter rolls. Those lawsuits are ongoing.

Kudos to Robert Popper who took the lead on this lawsuit and directs our Election Integrity Project. JW attorney Eric W. Lee assisted Bob on this important case. And we have been assisted by Mark Wohlander of the Wohlander Law Office in Lexington, and by Christopher Coates of the Law Office of H. Christopher Coates in Charleston, South Carolina.

This consent decree is a victory for the voters of Kentucky and across America that want clean elections. Dirty voter rolls can mean dirty elections, so this lawsuit succeeded in requiring Kentucky to take commonsense steps to clean its rolls. It is good to see that the Justice Department, after years of inaction, has finally returned to enforcing the law requiring states to take reasonable steps to maintain the accuracy of voting rolls.

Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch.


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