- - Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and this is often lost on conservatives. That might be about to change. In battles over protecting voting rights, conservatives are usually put on the defensive by lawyers of the litigious left as they seek sympathetic liberal judges to strike down common-sense ballot-integrity measures enacted by the states.

The conservative legal watchdog group Judicial Watch is trying to turn the tables. The other day Judicial Watch told the Maryland State Board of Elections that it would sue the board if officials in Montgomery County don’t act promptly to purge its voting rolls of ineligible voters — the departed, the dearly departed and illegal immigrants.

Judicial Watch says Montgomery County has 103 percent as many registered voters on its rolls as there are legal residents of voting age in the county. County records show a total voter registration of 657,548, and a voting-age population of 633,295. More than 24,000 names shouldn’t be there. If enough of those ballots were to be cast by fraudsters — friends or relatives of the decedents, residents voting both where they once lived and where they live now, and noncitizens — close races for the Montgomery County Council, the Maryland General Assembly or other elective offices could be distorted.

Cavalier dismissal of voter fraud by saying it doesn’t exist can’t change reality, though the director of the Democracy Program at the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law tries to do just that, blithely dismissing the Judicial Watch threat as “a stunt.” Self-styled “good-government” groups, such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, should be joining Judicial Watch in urging the state to do the right thing. One fraudulent vote, after all, cancels one legitimate vote.

Judicial Watch President Thomas Fitton observes that Indiana has purged almost a half-million ineligible voters from its rolls since August 2014 “thanks to the processes we helped put into place.” Judicial Watch has given Maryland 90 days to avoid a lawsuit. “Your failure to maintain accurate, up-to-date voter-registration lists has created the risk that the 2018 federal elections will lack the integrity required by federal law and by the expectations of Maryland citizens,” Mr. Fitton wrote David McManus Jr., chairman the board last week.

Mr. Fitton says Maryland is in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (the so-called “motor voter” law) and the Help America Vote Act, which requires states to “ensure that voter-registration records in the state are accurate and updated regularly.” The latter requires states to make “a reasonable effort to remove registrants who are ineligible to vote from the official list of eligible voters.”

In response, the elections board insists that it “regularly audits the local boards’ compliance with the process as part of our oversight role.” Maryland’s enforcing the law would hardly make the state a lighter shade of blue, but it would be the right thing to do.

President Trump said he would assign Vice President Mike Pence to chair a national commission to look into voter-registration issues in the wake of an election in which the president speculated that millions of illegal votes were cast. Millions is a lot, but even short of that there’s a big job to do, and Montgomery County, Maryland, is a good place to start.

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