California and Los Angeles County have agreed to purge as many as 1.5 million inactive voter registrations across the state as part of a court settlement finalized this week with Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog.
Judicial Watch sued the county and state voter-registration agencies, arguing that the California government was not complying with a federal law requiring the removal of inactive registrations that remain after two general elections, or two to four years.
Inactive voter registrations, for the most part, occur when voters move to another country or state or pass away but remain on the rolls. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County, with its more than 10 million residents, has more voter registrations than it has citizens old enough to register with a registration rate of 112 percent of its adult citizen population.
The entire state of California had a registration rate of 101 percent of age-eligible citizens, the lawsuit said, citing data published by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
The settlement is a third statewide voter-registration legal agreement or court order reached between Judicial Watch and states; the others were reached with government entities in Ohio in 2014 and Kentucky last year.
"This settlement vindicates Judicial Watch's groundbreaking lawsuits to clean up state voter rolls to help ensure cleaner elections," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.
Fitton said the California settlement would "clean up election rolls in Los Angeles County and California—and set a nationwide precedent to ensure that states take reasonable steps to ensure that dead and other ineligible voters are removed from the rolls."
Secretary of State Alex Padilla said state officials "have and will continue to meet the goals of the National Voter Registration Act"—the federal law at issue in the case—in "maintaining the accuracy of voter rolls and increasing the number of eligible citizens who register and vote."
Padilla tried to assure California voters that it would not lead to "unnecessary removal of active and eligible voters."
"Safeguards remain in place to ensure voter-list maintenance procedures are followed before canceling any voter registration records," Padilla said in a statement.
He also took a shot at Judicial Watch, arguing that the group's statements about the settlement "conflates their unfounded claims with what was actually agreed upon in the settlement" but did not elaborate about what constituted an "unfounded claim" by the conservative group.
"The settlement is clear and simple: California will continue its work to adhere to modern list maintenance procedures under the [National Voter Registration Act]," he said.
Padilla also hailed California as a leader in implementing election reforms to improve voter participation.
The California DMV's new process of automatically registering people to vote, which began in late April of last year, was credited with boosting voter registration and turnout to historic highs. Nearly 1.5 million more people were registered to vote than were in the last midterm election in 2014, for a total of 19 million Californians, according to the California Secretary of State's Office.
That so-called motor-voter law also raised still-unanswered questions about the number of illegal immigrants and other non-citizens who may have voted in the June primary and November gubernatorial and congressional midterm election. California officials still cannot say whether non-citizens voted, the Sacramento Bee reported Friday.
On Thursday, Padilla confirmed for the first time that his office is actively investigating whether illegal immigrants and other noncitizens voted last year because the DMV erroneously registered them to vote.
Judicial Watch attorney Robert Popper said the issue of non-citizen voting is a separate matter from the inactive voter registrations, which he said have been lagging in states across the country for decades since the Justice Department, during Bill Clinton's presidency, signed a consent decree that inactive voter registrations couldn't be removed despite the NVRA requirements.
The Supreme Court decided a case last summer that determined that the removal of inactive registrations is mandatory under the NVRA.
While Popper said he couldn't cite a specific example of voter fraud stemming from the inactive lists in California, he argued that letting voter-registration rolls remain messy and full of inactive registrations opens the door to fraud and undermines confidence in the integrity of the voting system.
"Just like a kitchen in a restaurant should be clean … you shouldn't have to draw a direct correlation between Ecoli and a dirty kitchen. Just because you didn't get sick, doesn't mean it's okay that the kitchen was dirty," he told the Washington Free Beacon.
Additionally, Popper said having bloated and inaccurate voter registration rolls makes it more difficult for the democratic process to work—hampering political groups in their efforts to send targeted mailings and pursue get-out-the-vote efforts.