Practice of purging voter rolls is legitimate
One of the many bad provisions in a sweeping election and campaign finance reform bill approved by the U.S. House this year was a ban on states removing inactive voters from their rolls. This is a reasonable practice supported by the Supreme Court and needs to be left alone.
Oklahoma is among the states that use failure to vote as a cause for deregistration. Inactive voters are purged from Oklahoma’s rolls in odd-numbered years.
Just last year, the Supreme Court sided with purging states in a case from Ohio, whose law was challenged for allegedly violating federal law. In the Buckeye State, an address confirmation is sent after a citizen fails to vote for two years. Those who don’t return that form and then don’t vote for another four years are presumed to have moved and are removed from the rolls.
The National Voter Registration Act requires states to routinely remove the names of voters who are ineligible because they have moved or died. However, states must provide notice before removing a voter’s name from the rolls. Ohio was accused of violating the law because the address confirmation mailing was prompted solely by the failure to vote.
The high court found that wasn’t the case, and instead said Ohio follows federal law “to the letter.”
In Oklahoma, the state Election Board sends an address confirmation mailing to citizens who fail to vote in two consecutive general elections. Returning that mailing preserves the person’s status as an enrolled voter.
If the address confirmation isn’t returned, however, the citizen is designated as an “inactive” voter. He or she must fail to vote in two more general elections before being removed. As a result, the removal process can take up to eight years.
Even that much leeway isn’t good enough for some progressive activists. For example, the program director for the nonprofit Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in Washington, D.C., told Oklahoma Watch, “Voting should never be use it or lose it.”
“It’s a right, and we should be making it easier to vote, not harder,” she said.
This is the thinking behind the “For the People Act,” or H.R. 1, which the House approved last month. The bill also called for such things as automatic voter registration and expanding early voting to at least 15 days in every state.
The complaint is that Democratic voters tend to be most affected by the purging of voter rolls. In 2017, for example, 46 percent of those purged in Oklahoma were Democrats and 33 percent were Republicans.
It’s safe to assume that if the reverse were true, you wouldn’t see the same push to “fix” the system. Regardless, there’s an easy way to ensure a name doesn’t get removed from the voter rolls — that person can go vote occasionally.