Ohio is conducting a massive purge of its voter rolls, and it doesn’t have to

Ohio has purged roughly two million voters from its rolls over the last five years, canceling the registrations of people who have moved within the state or not voted in recent years.

Secretary of State John Husted claims that of the 2 million voters removed from the rolls, over 400,000 are deceased.

Be that as it may, Democrats in the state say the way in which Husted is going about removing voters is too broad, as eligible, registered voters are being denied access to the ballot. According to State Representative Kathleen Clyde (D – Kent), over 700 voters in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, were denied access to the ballot this year as a result of Husted’s purge.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, “Under the current process, if a person did not vote in 2009 and 2010, the county board of elections sent the person a notice in 2011. If the person took no action to verify his or her status and did not vote in any election through 2014, the county board was told to remove the person from the voting rolls in 2015.”

Clyde has proposed a bill that would limit purges of living voters to those who have been confirmed as having moved out of the state. Which makes sense, given the fact that if a voter hasn’t moved out of state or died, there’s no reason to remove their registration. Voting rights aren’t a “use them or lose them” proposition. Just because you haven’t voted in the last few elections doesn’t mean you should be forced to sit out the next one.

What’s more, registered voters who have moved within a state are still allowed to file for a provisional ballot to vote in the precinct that covers their new address. Purging them from the rolls, despite the fact that they remain eligible to vote in Ohio, denies them this opportunity.

This isn’t to say that messy voter rolls aren’t an issue. They are, and the National Voter Registration Act requires states to take steps to maintain clean voter registration database. Instead, this is to say, as I’ve said before, that messy voter rolls are a ballot access issue, not an election integrity issue. As I wrote in October, the  Ohio county that includes the college I went to helps explain why:

A rhetorical question, via Wikimedia Commons

A rhetorical question, via Wikimedia Commons

[O]ver the course of the 2008 presidential campaign, a majority of Kenyon College students registered to vote, and voted, at the one precinct in Gambier, Ohio that covered the college’s roughly 1650 students (the town’s overall population is just over 2000, including students). However, in the years that followed, students graduated and their registrations weren’t updated. As of last year, there were 2623 registered voters in Gambier, Ohio — nearly a thousand more registered voters than there are students at the college and definitely greater than the village’s actual population. While there is obviously no coordinated effort to get those graduates to keep voting on campus…the accumulation of voter registrations forced the state to split Gambier into two precincts — there were more registered voters than legally allowed for one precinct. This confuses students as to where they are supposed to vote. And as prior research has shown, policies that confuse voters can do more to suppress turnout than active attempts at voter suppression.

Voter registration at Kenyon is particularly sticky because Kenyon doesn’t have off-campus housing. With no leasing process, every student gets kicked out of their dorm in late May and moves back into a different dorm in late August. In other words, Kenyon students move in-state every year before they graduate; while everyone moves in or out of state after they graduate. Graduates failing to update their voter registration has led to the College being covered by two precincts rather than one; the split precinct creates the dual concern that students will either vote at the wrong booth or be denied access to the ballot entirely. Under the current arrangement, the only ways to address this issue is either for every student and graduate to diligently update their voter registration every year, or to conduct a broad purge.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! There is a better way! If Ohio wanted to take a big step toward cleaning up its (and every other state’s) voter rolls, it would sign on to participate in the the non-profit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). While not a registrar in and of itself, ERIC allows participating states to match voter registration records such that when a citizen moves between states, their registration in their new state cancels their registration in their old state. This would accomplish the goals of Clyde’s bill while avoiding the concerns raised by her Republican counterparts in the state legislature regarding what the bill would prevent the Secretary of State’s office from doing, like sending postcards to registered voters who have are confirmed to have moved in-state.

Currently, there are only fourteen states participating in ERIC. Ohio isn’t one of them. Until and unless every state signs on to ERIC, or the federal government enacts an ERIC-like system for registration record-matching, there won’t be total coverage and it can’t be considered a total solution. And secretaries of state will continue to conduct voter purges with varying and at times disenfranchising degrees of breadth.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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9 Responses to “Ohio is conducting a massive purge of its voter rolls, and it doesn’t have to”

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  2. UncleBucky says:

    Um, removing those on the voter rolls in Democratic districts??? Or lip service to likely Democrats in Republican districts?


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  4. dannyjoelamaster says:

    The repukes know that they can’t win the presidential race when all things are equal.

  5. Houndentenor says:

    If you want to know how corrupt the Ohio voting system is, look back at the 2004 election.

  6. BeccaM says:

    “Ohio is conducting a massive purge of likely Democratic voters…and the state’s GOP leaders want it to continue until their majority rule is assured in perpetuity.”


  7. Nightowl223 says:

    Not knowing the state, I know little about him. But if this is the kind of thing he generally does, I would have to agree with you. This is disingenuous at best, and, at worst, downright evil.

  8. angryspittle says:

    Any action taken by Husted is crooked.

  9. Sally says:

    A nationwide data base? How 1990! I recall when this started, and the uproar that emerged from the GOP over ‘government will spy on you!!!’ Now of course, they passed and reposed the Patriot Act, so government really does spy on you, but the GOP still prefers to purge legal voters from the rolls just in case they might not vote for the GOP. How very patriotic of them.

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