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The Purge: Election Edition

Voting! Seems pretty straightforward, right? Sure, some people haven't had the right to do it for as long as other people, but it's easy to assume that once people can legally vote and have registered to vote, we let them.

HA. You're cute. And sorry to disappoint, probably know where we're going with this. Just the work of ensuring that everybody who should have the right to vote actually does has taken about two hundred years, and the nation is still battling it out over questions about who should vote, how they should vote, how we know they know we know they know they can vote, and what kinds of voting obstacles are allowed by law. One of those controversies is over how states should update their voter rolls.

What is voter purging?

Many states are implementing the practice of voter purging, a method of cleaning up voter registration lists by deleting names from the voter rolls. In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) which prevented states from purging voters unless they met certain requirements. While state and local election officials need a way to ensure that their voting lists are accurate, these purges are often based on bad information. Last month, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio's controversial "use-it-or-lose-it" voting law that allows the state to strike voters from the registration rolls if they fail to return a mailed address confirmation form, and don't vote for another four years. A new report by the Brennan Center, highlights the systematic purging of voters from rolls by state and local officials around the country. Though, these are not random cases but a methodical effort that disproportionately affects minority voters. The worst thing about this practice is that voters might not realize that they're not registered anymore until it's too late.

Are you about to tell us all the ways people abuse this system?

Yep. The result of the Shelby v. Holder ruling in 2013 was that states with histories of voter discrimination no longer required federal preclearance before purging rolls. Between 2014 and 2016, 16 million registered voters were removed from state rolls which is 33% more than the amount removed between 2006 and 2008. Here are just a few more ways states are abusing this system.

  • In June of 2016, the Arkansas secretary of state gave a list of 7,700 names to county clerks to remove because of supposed felony convictions. Many people on that list were never actually convicted of felonies.
  • Virginia deleted 39,000 names from its voting roster but in some areas, the mistake rate was as high as 17%.
  • A federal court had to halt a purge after Hurricane Katrina when it was found that 33% of the purged names came from a majority black parish in New Orleans.
  • After Shelby v. Holder, Texas purged 363,000 more voters than it did the election cycle before and Georgia purged 1.5 million more.
  • Alabama, Indiana and Maine illegally instituted a Crosscheck system that purges voters without required federal notification.

Almost all types of these purges largely affects people of color. Minority voters are more likely to have the same names, more likely to move and more likely to be incapacitated, which are all criteria used to purge registered voters.

What can we do about it?

Vote. Vote. Vote. No, we're serious. You should check if you're registered to vote and get your network to check if they are registered to vote. People close to you might have been purged and might be completely unaware. Change is only going to occur if we register and participate in our democracy despite the obstacles.