The ways in which the department's Civil Rights Division has enforced the 2002 Help America Vote Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act go to the heart of allegations that the Bush administration has used the unit to suppress the votes of poor minorities.
The Help America Vote Act required states to upgrade voting machines and to create central, computerized databases of registered voters by Jan. 1, 2006. The National Voter Registration Act became known as the 'motor voter' law because it required motor-vehicle and public assistance agencies to register voters, but one provision directs states to scour registration records for ineligible names, such as those of dead people or voters who had moved away.
Joseph Rich, a former chief of the Justice Department's Voting Rights Section, said that Hans von Spakovsky, a former division counsel, directed him in early 2005 to start what Rich called 'an initiative' to enforce the provision requiring states to maintain accurate registration lists.
Department spokeswoman Magnuson said 'there was no initiative' and that the agency was merely enforcing the law.
Rich said the department changed priorities under the motor voter law 'from expanding registration opportunities - the primary purpose of the statute - to unnecessarily forcing jurisdictions to remove voters from their voter rolls."
"Aggressive purging of the voter rolls tends to have a disproportionate impact on voters who move frequently, live in cities and have names that are more likely to be incorrectly entered into databases," said Rich, who's now an attorney with the liberal-leaning Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. Primarily, he said, this means poor, minority voters. ...
The problem with the purges, said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Campaign at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, is that government lists are rife with typos and "so much of it is done secretly ... which opens the possibility for manipulation or error."