WALTHALL COUNTY — This South Mississippi county has agreed to purge the names of ineligible voters from its voter registration roll, including those of any dead people and disenfranchised felons whose names appear.
The agreement was filed yesterday in a consent order in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg.
A Virginia-based conservative group, the American Civil Rights Union, sued two south Mississippi counties, Walthall and Jefferson Davis, in April. The lawsuits said the counties both had more registered voters than residents who were at least 18, the minimum voting age.
The suits said that under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, better known as Motor Voter, counties have an obligation to keep accurate voter rolls for federal elections. The Jefferson Davis lawsuit is still pending.
Walthall County had 11,219 voting-age residents in 2012 and 12,752 registered voters as of Wednesday, according to the Mississippi secretary of state’s office.
In the consent order, Walthall County says that before Oct. 1, it will distribute notices to try to determine which registered voters may be dead or registered more than once. By Dec. 1, the county must provide a report about the number of people found to be ineligible for those reasons, and it must provide information about how many of those names are removed or put on an inactive voter list.
The county also agreed to check criminal records to see if there are people on the voter rolls who were convicted of disenfranchising crimes, including murder. And, it agreed to do a countywide mailing to verify voters’ addresses.
Conrad Mord, the attorney who defended Walthall County in the lawsuit, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. The county’s circuit clerk, Vernon E. Alford, said in an interview that he registers voters but doesn’t have the power to purge the voter roll; only election commissioners can clear names off the roll.
Alford said he met with election commissioners Wednesday to discuss the consent order.
“If I had to estimate, probably well before this time next year we’ll have our voting rolls in good order,” Alford told The Associated Press.
Mississippi has long had problems with inflated voter rolls. AP reported in October 2008 that 29 of the 82 counties had more registered voters than residents 18 or older. That is now down to 12 counties, according to a spreadsheet released yesterday by the secretary of state’s office.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, created a statewide electronic registry that county officials can use to check for duplicate voter registrations. In recent years, some counties have used the list to purge voter rolls after people move away.
The American Civil Rights Union, based in Alexandria, Va., has a board that includes Edwin Meese, who was attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. On its website, the group has an “election integrity defense project” that includes the two lawsuits about inflated voter rolls in Mississippi. It is not affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union, the individual rights advocacy group.
The three attorneys who filed the lawsuits in Walthall and Jefferson Davis counties — J. Christian Adams of Alexandria, Va.; H. Christopher Coates of Charleston, S.C.; and Henry Ross of Eupora, Miss. — are former U.S. Justice Department attorneys.
Adams told AP yesterday that it’s possible the group will sue other Mississippi counties that have inflated voter rolls.
“If they can get them clean before we sue, there won’t be any more lawsuits,” Adams said.
Adams also said the Justice Department should challenge counties that have more registered voters than people of voting age. And in a news release, the American Civil Rights Union criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for suing to block a voter identification law in Texas. Supporters of voter ID say it would prevent people from voting in others’ names, while opponents claim that such impersonation is rare.
A Justice Department spokesman was not immediately available after business hours Wednesday.
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