New York regularly places voters on inactive status if it believes that the voter has moved, but it does not provide the names of these inactive voters to poll workers at polling locations. In an opinion last week, Judge Nathan ruled, following a bench trial, that the refusal to maintain the inactive list at polling locations violates the the Equal Protection Clause.
Judge Nathan found that the refusal to provide the inactive list served no legitimate state interest. The State argued that not having the inactive list would ensure that people vote in the location in which they were registered, but, as Judge Nathan concluded, failed to explain how the practice would “actually advance” that interest. The State claimed that the practice increased efficiency at the polls, but Judge Nathan found that the practice actually created delays which produced ripple effects that burdened all voters.
[T]he Court need not decide whether strict or some form of intermediate scrutiny governs, because the law cannot withstand any level of scrutiny. New York’s policy burdens voters, and the State provides no legitimate interest to justify that burden. Indeed, when pressed at trial to provide a legitimate interest, the State was repeatedly unable to do so. . . . New York then argued that “the state doesn’t necessarily need an interest for not providing a particular piece of information,” i.e. the names of inactive voters. . . . The State is incorrect. Election decisions that burden the fundamental right to vote must be justified by legitimate state interests. None is provided here.
Separately, Judge Nathan upheld the practice of requiring inactive voters to vote using affidavit ballots rather than regular ballots, finding that the policy was justified by several legitimate state interests.