Study says at least 17 million voters purged in recent years

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A recent study has found that at least 17 million voters nationwide were purged between 2016 and 2018.

The study was conducted by The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which used data from the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The study found that between 2016 and 2018, counties with a history of voter discrimination have continued purging people from the rolls at much higher rates than other counties.

This phenomenon began after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that severely weakened the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Brennan Center first identified this troubling voter purge trend in a major report released in July 2018.

Before the Shelby County decision, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to submit proposed changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal court for approval, a process known as “preclearance.”

After analyzing the 2019 EAC data, the study found:

  • At least 17 million voters were purged nationwide between 2016 and 2018, similar to the number we saw between 2014 and 2016, but considerably higher than what we saw between 2006 and 2008;
  • The median purge rate over the 2016–2018 period in jurisdictions previously subject to preclearance was 40 percent higher than the purge rate in jurisdictions that were not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act;
  • If purge rates in the counties that were covered by Section 5 were the same as the rates in non-Section 5 counties, as many as 1.1 million fewer individuals would have been removed from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018

The study includes the total numbers of voters removed by a county for any reason. Election officials purge voters they believe are ineligible for a variety of reasons, including death and moving outside the jurisdiction. This analysis does not assess how many voters were improperly purged.

Methodology

Every two years, the EAC administers a survey to election officials around the country known as the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS). The survey includes a host of questions about the state of voter registration in the jurisdiction and the experience of the most recent federal election.

Jurisdictions are requested to report on information including how many new registrations occurred between the federal elections, the number of ballots cast on election day, and the number of polling sites that were open on election day. The jurisdictions are also asked to report how many voters were removed from the registration rolls — or “purged” — over the two-year period that preceded the most recent federal election.

These data formed the backbone of the statistical analysis in last year’s report, and was used again here.

All election jurisdictions in the country are asked to respond to the EAVS survey every two years, but in 2018, some in Alabama and Texas did not report their purge numbers. Although this makes the data less than ideal, the EAC survey remains the best source for nationwide information on voter purges.

Purge rates are calculated as the number of voters removed between 2016 and 2018 divided by the sum of total voters registered as of the 2018 election and the number removed.

As with a similar report in 2018, the study used the median purge rate when discussing aggregate purge rates. The median purge rate was used to avoid leaving the data more susceptible to outliers.

Why purges can be problematic

There are many good reasons for a voter to be purged.

For instance, if a voter moves from Georgia to New York, he or she is no longer eligible to cast a ballot in the Peach State. As such, they should be removed from Georgia’s voter rolls. Similarly, voters who have passed away should be removed from the rolls. Reasonable voter list maintenance ensures voter rolls remain up to date.

Problems arise when states remove voters who are still eligible to vote.

States rely on faulty data that purport to show that a voter has moved to another state. Oftentimes, these data get people mixed up. In big states like California and Texas, multiple individuals can have the same name and date of birth, making it hard to be sure that the right voter is being purged when perfect data are unavailable.

Troublingly, minority voters are more likely to share names than white voters, potentially exposing them to a greater risk of being purged. Voters often do not realize they have been purged until they try to cast a ballot on Election Day — after it’s already too late. If those voters live in a state without election day registration, they are often prevented from participating in that election.

Approximately 17 million purged between 2016 and 2018

A map obtained by the Crusader shows the purge rates for the counties that reported their information to the EAC. Some counties did not report their information.

Because North Dakota does not have voter registration, it does not have a voter purge rate. Therefore, the state is grayed out to mirror the non-reporting jurisdictions in Texas and Alabama.

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