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Republicans scrutinize voting rolls and ramp up for mass challenges ahead of election

Matt Vasilogambros, on

Published in News & Features

More lawsuits

Challenges to registrations are getting an assist from court cases that are making voter rolls public.

Since 2020, there have “been a lot of questions” surrounding elections, said Lauren Bowman Bis, director of communications and engagement for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, one of several conservative groups that have sued states to release voter registration lists.

Transparency in elections is crucial for people to have more confidence in the system, she added. By gaining access to voter names, addresses and party registration, groups like Bis’ can check states to make sure lists are accurate and they’re not sending multiple ballots to people or are ensuring dead people are removed from the rolls.

Bis has gone to cemeteries in Michigan where, she said, she has seen the names of active voters on tombstones.

The foundation, often known as PILF, has active lawsuits in Hawaii, Michigan and South Carolina over their voter roll maintenance. Over the past four years, they have successfully sued Illinois and Maryland and gained access to those states’ voter lists.

In February, a federal appeals court ruled that Maine had to release its voter rolls to the Public Interest Legal Foundation. The group has appealed a ruling in Michigan that it lost in a district court last month, arguing the state did not make a “reasonable effort” to clean its rolls.

Another conservative group that posts voter rolls online, the Voter Reference Foundation, sued Pennsylvania in February over access to its registration lists. The group did not respond to emailed questions.


“The voter roll really is the most essential election integrity document,” said Bis. “We’re just trying to make sure that federal law is enforced in states or localities where we find election officials aren’t doing what they are required to by law to have a secure election that people can have confidence in the results.”

But the disagreement over these efforts once again comes down to the data — the methodology that plaintiffs use in their complaints.

Conservative groups sometimes compare the current number of registered voters to an outdated estimate of the number of voting-age citizens in that jurisdiction, said Eliza Sweren-Becker, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, a voting rights group housed at the New York University School of Law.

“You’re really comparing apples and oranges in suggesting that there’s something improper with high voter registration rates,” she said. “We should hope and expect that all eligible Americans who want to participate in our democratic system are registered to vote and can stay on the rolls.”

Some Republicans are concerned too.

Dennis Lennox, a Michigan-based Republican political consultant, told Stateline that while he does not agree with the way that many Democratic state officials changed voting rules in recent years, he worries that some Republicans are more focused on lawsuits and curbing ballot access than adapting to new early voting realities to get out the vote in a bigger way.

“Republicans, by and large, have been caught flat-footed,” Lennox wrote in an email. “The party nationally and in many states is basically divided between those wanting to focus on so-called lawfare and those willing to adapt and accept the reality of campaigns and elections in 2024.”

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