Liberal Groups and High-Powered Lawyers Swarm Detroit to Keep Dead Voters on Rolls

A sign directs residents to vote in the 2016 Michigan primary in Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb / Getty Images
February 12, 2020

Liberal groups and high-powered New York attorneys swooped into Detroit this week to help the city fight a lawsuit over its voter roll irregularities, which included thousands of deceased individuals appearing on the rolls.

The League of Women Voters of Michigan and its Detroit chapter filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Detroit city clerk Janice Winfrey and Director of Elections George Azzouz. Winfrey and Azzouz were sued in December by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), an election integrity group. The officials had ignored PILF's requests to inspect Detroit's voter registrations after the group discovered thousands of ineligible voters on the city's rolls.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive policy institute at New York University School of Law, will help the League fight PILF's lawsuit. Myrna Pérez, the center's director of voting rights and elections programs, and Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel in the center's Democracy Program, signed on to the motion. New York-based attorneys from the Paul Weiss law firm, where former Obama attorney general Loretta Lynch is a partner, also joined the motion.

The liberal groups and attorneys are converging on Detroit as part of a broader campaign against alleged efforts to "purge" individuals from voter rolls. Democrats have built a massive network of nonprofit groups, funded by George Soros and other liberal donors, to oppose Republican-backed voting initiatives such as voter identification laws. Michigan is a significant target for such efforts given its "swing state" status; Trump won the state by just 10,000 votes in the 2016 election.

"The national 2020 elections will be held in less than nine months," the League states in its motion. "If a resolution of this matter—whether by court order or through a negotiated settlement—results in an aggressive purge and a heightened standard for voter list maintenance beyond reasonableness, the League may not have significant time to remedy the issue."

Logan Churchwell, communications director for PILF, said the groups still have to convince the court they belong in the room.

"This is yet more evidence of the left's deep investments to preserve faulty voter registration records and the questionable procedures at the root of the problem," Churchwell said.

PILF filed suit after discovering 2,500 deceased individuals among the city's rolls and 5,000 duplicate registrations. In a city where only 479,267 individuals are eligible to vote, PILF found 511,786 registered voters.

The League of Women Voters of Michigan did not respond to a request for comment. Robert Atkins, the top attorney from Paul Weiss listed on the motion, also did not respond.

Many of the attorneys working with the League have donated to Democratic presidential and Senate candidates this cycle. Atkins, co-chair of Paul Weiss's litigation department, has provided contributions ranging from $250 to $3,000 to the presidential campaigns of Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker.

Atkins also donated to the Senate campaigns of Cal Cunningham, running in North Carolina, and Theresa Greenfield, running in Iowa. The IA/NC Senate 2020 committee, a joint fundraising venture between Cunningham and Greenfield, is bankrolled by dozens of attorneys at the firm, including Atkins and Loretta Lynch. The committee has so far pushed $100,000 to each of the candidates. On Dec. 16, it disbursed $1,100 to Paul Weiss for catering and room rental.

Another attorney listed on the League's motion, William Michael, has also given thousands to Democratic presidential candidates including Biden and Amy Klobuchar. Employees at Paul Weiss provided more than $1 million to Democrats and $180,000 to Republicans so far this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrats began their attempts to chip away at Republican voting initiatives prior to the 2016 election. After Trump's victory, however, they mobilized to build a more robust infrastructure.

Marc Elias, a top Democratic lawyer at the Washington, D.C., office of the Perkins Coie law firm, led efforts to combat voter identification laws during the 2016 cycle. Elias, who was Hillary Clinton's top campaign lawyer at the time, brought lawsuits forward in a number of states, including Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. The campaign was heavily funded by George Soros, who expressed a goal of expanding the electorate by 10 million voters.

Following the 2016 election, Elias joined the board of Priorities USA to lead its nonprofit arm's efforts against state voting laws. Priorities USA additionally absorbed Every Citizen Counts, a nonprofit created by Clinton allies that focused on mobilizing Latino and African-American voters. The group began to zero in on voting issues.

A number of organizations carrying the same mission sprang up around that time. Let America Vote, a nonprofit established by former Democratic Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander, was one. It works with other liberal outfits and contains dozens of high-level operatives on its advisory board, including Elias, Stacey Abrams, and Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA.