Kentucky Can't Use Separate 'Inactive Voter' List, Judge Rules

The state wanted people who it suspected had moved — around 175,000 people — to jump through additional hoops at the polls if they wanted to vote.
The Kentucky Democratic Party sued the state last week after election officials attempted to create a list of "inactive voter
The Kentucky Democratic Party sued the state last week after election officials attempted to create a list of "inactive voters" and require them to take extra steps in order to cast a ballot.

A Kentucky judge on Monday blocked election officials in the state from creating a list of “inactive voters,” and requiring those voters to take additional steps in order to cast a ballot at the polls. 

The temporary restraining order is a victory for the Kentucky Democratic Party, which sued the state over the inactive voter list in state court last week. Around 175,000 people were on the inactive voter list. 

The inactive voter list was composed of people who the state suspected had moved because they received undeliverable mail from Kentucky election officials, said Anna Whites, a lawyer for the Kentucky Democratic Party. Those on the list were still eligible to vote, but if they showed up at the polls, they would have to sign a supplemental roster as well as an official oath swearing under criminal penalty they were an eligible voter. 

Those additional steps needlessly make it harder for potentially eligible voters to cast a ballot, wrote Thomas Wingate, a judge on the Franklin County Circuit Court. 

“Not every voter has the luxury of waiting for a possibly lengthy period of time to jump through unnecessary hoops when the State Board of Elections’ intent can be achieved through simpler, less prejudicial means such as placing an asterisk by the names of the 175,000 individuals on the Master Voting List and having poll workers confirm each voters’ address,” he wrote in his ruling. 

Wingate instructed Kentucky election officials to return all voters on the inactive list to the state’s voter rolls and mark their names with an asterisk, which would indicate to poll workers they needed to update the voters’ address.

Jared Dearing, the executive director of the state board of elections, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Federal law requires states to regularly undertake broad, nondiscriminatory efforts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls. Federal law says that someone cannot be removed from a state’s voter rolls “solely” because they haven’t voted. 

In 2018, Kentucky officials reached a federal settlement in a lawsuit in which they agreed to send out mailings to voters to see if they had moved and were ineligible. The state said the inactive voter list was part of an effort to comply with that settlement, but Kentucky Democrats said it was needlessly restrictive. 

The ruling comes weeks before a closely watched gubernatorial election in which Gov. Matt Bevin (R) faces Andy Beshear, the state’s Democratic attorney general. 

Read the ruling below: