ATLANTA – A key element of voting restrictions pushed by Republican state lawmakers this year focuses on cleaning voter rolls to ensure only those eligible are registered. Maintaining accurate voter rolls is a bipartisan concern, but there is little agreement on the best way to do it. Democrats say some of the actions proposed by Republicans are too aggressive and will end up purging eligible voters. Republicans say Democrats are too lax, resulting in bloated voter rolls that undermine confidence and invite fraud.
In Congress, a Democratic voting rights bill would prohibit states from using a person’s failure to vote to initiate their removal from the rolls. Here is an explanation of how voter rolls are maintained, how states do it differently and the conflicts over this year’s legislative proposals.
WHAT ARE VOTER ROLLS AND HOW ARE THEY MAINTAINED?
Every state except North Dakota requires voters to register in advance of an election. A growing number allow for same-day registration during early voting periods and, in some cases, on Election Day. Under federal law, voters can be removed upon their request or through a process based on an indication that they are no longer eligible.
When an election official receives information that a voter has moved, that typically triggers a notice to the voter that must be returned. Otherwise, the voter will be deemed inactive and eventually removed from the rolls unless there is some subsequent contact with the elections office, such as updating their address. Federal law also directs states to remove those who have died from voter lists and prohibits the removal of any voter within 90 days of an election.
ARE THERE EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE BEING WRONGLY PURGED?
Yes. In 2016, New York City’s Board of Elections improperly removed more than 200,000 names from the voter rolls. The same year, 7,700 people in Arkansas were identified for removal for felony convictions, but it was later determined the list included people who had never been convicted of a felony along with those whose voting rights had been restored after their conviction. These examples were cited in a 2018 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU that found some states rely on faulty data and lack safeguards to detect and correct problems.
WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED THIS YEAR?