As a federal judge scheduled a hearing yesterday on a lawsuit to end the city's annual purge of its voter rolls, Eleanor Holmes Norton used the issue to criticize one of her opponents for D.C. delegate.
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan scheduled a status conference for Friday to consider ratifying an agreement reached late last week between the National Rainbow Coalition and the D.C. Board of Elections. Under the agreement, more than 30,000 D.C. residents who have been purged in the last two years would be permitted to vote in future elections.
The agreement would end a lawsuit the National Rainbow Coalition and the Citizenship Education Fund filed last week charging that it was unconstitutional for the city to remove from its voter rolls people who had not voted in four years.
Norton said the lawsuit would have been unnecessary had her opponent for delegate, D.C. Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), moved more swiftly to get a proposed bill ending the purge policy through the council committee she heads.
Kane said that because the legislation was only a proposal, it never went to her Committee on Government Operations.
Norton said in a statement that emergency legislation was proposed in 1989 to end the purge. The Georgetown law professor said Kane "could have and should have moved the proposed legislation in light of the disparate impact of the purge practices on minorities."
Norton also called on Kane to hold hearings on council legislation that would allow District residents to register to vote in city agencies and to register on Election Day.
Kane said she had an agreement with the Board of Elections not to change voting procedures during an election year. After the elections were over, she said, "we would look at a number of things to adjust this process."
Kane said she has already scheduled committee hearings for the fall on voter registration.
"She's a fine one to criticize when she hasn't voted in any of the last four Democratic primaries," Kane said of Norton.
The civil rights groups said in their lawsuit, which the Board of Elections did not oppose, that purging discriminated against blacks and Hispanics, who were removed more often than whites.
Election boards in the region say they purge voter names to preserve accurate lists and to reduce opportunities for fraud. Maryland's policy came under attack earlier this year, but a federal judge in Baltimore ruled that the state did not violate individual constitutional rights by purging people from voter lists. An appeal is pending.
In Virginia registered voters who do not vote for four consecutive years are notified and then are removed if they do not respond.
The purge issue also arose in a meeting yesterday morning between Jesse L. Jackson, who heads the National Rainbow Coalition, and Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.
Speaking at a news conference in front of the Justice Department after the meeting, Jackson said he urged the attorney general to end "arbitrary and capricious" roll purging.
"Roll purging for not voting is punishment," Jackson said. "People have the right not to vote just as they have the right to vote."