Purging the Voter Rolls

According to The Hill,

Indiana has purged nearly a half-million registered voters from its rolls since Election Day.

The purge is part of a massive effort to update the state’s voter rolls after years of improper maintenance and neglect, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said. Since the November elections, 481,235 registered voters have been taken off the list.

“When I became secretary of state, I discovered voter list maintenance was not being done statewide and many outdated voter registrations were still on the rolls,” Lawson said in a statement.

Lawson is undoubtedly correct that Indiana’s voter rolls were out of date, a situation not unique to Indiana. Giving states the responsibility of maintaining their own voter rolls is one of the many idiosyncrasies of America’s election “systems,” and it doesn’t work very well. (I put systems in quotes, because the way in which we conduct elections is anything but systematic. Or uniform.)

Other countries–not that we would ever admit that other nations may have things to teach us–have established national, nonpartisan agencies to administer elections. The virtues of such an approach are rather obvious, especially in a country where voters freely move from state to state. A national system makes record keeping uniform, ensures that polling places adhere to the same rules and stay open during the same hours (Indiana’s polls close at 6:00 pm, while citizens in most other states are still casting ballots at 8:00), and it minimizes the opportunity for local partisan mischief.

Perhaps political hostility to that last “virtue” is why we still have local control…

Secretary of State Lawson initiated her purge by sending postcards to every registered voter in Indiana. If postcards were returned as undeliverable, Lawson’s office would send a second, forwardable postcard.

People who failed to update their voter records after receiving the second card were marked as inactive on the state’s list of registered voters. And those who didn’t cast ballots in 2014, 2015 or 2016 were purged from the rolls after the November election.

That sounds simple enough, but of course, nothing in American democracy is simple. As Huffpost reported a month or so ago,

In April, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed legislation authorizing election officials to remove voters from the rolls if they were found to be registered in more than one place. According to the legislation, one of the ways officials can identify people who are registered in more than one place is by using Interstate Crosscheck, a system developed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) that 27 states use to compare voter information.

It isn’t illegal to be registered in more than one state. But if Crosscheck flags a voter as being registered in another state, the Indiana legislation authorizes local election officials to remove them from the rolls if they can verify that person is indeed registered in their jurisdiction.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Brennan Center for Justice on behalf of the Indiana chapters of the NAACP and League of Women Voters accuses that process of violating the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The federal law requires election officials to provide notice to a voter they are at risk of being removed and then permits the officials to remove them from the voting rolls if they don’t respond over a period of time. In their complaint, lawyers called the Indiana law a “flagrant” violation of NVRA.

Research has shown that purging based on Crosscheck causes the cancellation of 200 legitimate registrations for every registration that could be used to cast a double vote. Researchers at MIT have found a 13.6 percent chance that any random voter could be matched to another voter with the same name and birth month and year.

Florida and Oregon have both discontinued use of the program, citing its unreliability. (Florida evidently did so after the program purged Governor Rick Scott. Schadenfreude, anyone?)

If you are an Indiana voter, and you want to be sure you are still eligible to vote, use this link.


  1. Clearly, stories like this show us how insidious and rampant the voter suppression tactics of the Republican Party really are. Anytime the name Kris Kobach appears on this subject, you know something nefarious is going on.

    While the lawsuits grind through the courts, the RNC is hard at work in the states they control to make their stranglehold on the people of those states even tighter. It should be noted that the vast majority of those people purged from rolls across the country are those who tend to vote for Democrats.

    We don’t need a brick house to fall on us to know what’s going on: The continued hijacking of our democracy by the neo-fascist elements of the RNC.

  2. When I returned from voting in the last general election I cound a card in my mailbox that worried me. The card said, “Is there anyone over 18 who formerly lived in your home and no longer does? If so, simply call ….” I thought, “What if I or someone in the household is irritated at another! How much fun it would be to cause a hassle for that person. Or, what if a household member is away for school or work but who intends to come home to vote?”

    Incidentally, I was not too happy to learn that Connie Lawson is a member of Pence’s “Sic the Voers” committee.

  3. Three voters in this household. All of us voted in 2016. The Voter Registration system shows that two of us are registered; the third is not. No postcards received!

  4. I was one of those purged. I received no postcard, and I know several people who had the same thing happen. I haven’t missed an election since 1972 and whenever I moved, the first thing I always did was re-register. Everyone should check their registration periodically, just to make sure.

  5. MaryJo; why should YOU have to call to report this? Many people have no idea who lived in their home before them or how old they are. They are asking you to do their job for them; “privatizing” voter registration. Guess I need to check to see if I am still registered at this address in the middle of dozens of Trump voters.

    I have questioned numerous times if…when I move and register to vote in a new area (and I ALWAYS re-register to vote); is my name removed from the previous district books? Even if our name is not removed and we appear to be registered in two districts; we must show ID and sign our name to vote in the dated elections. Are those investigating too ignorant to simply check the latest date the person voted or IS THE MULTIPLE LISTING USED AS A REASON TO DELETE THEM FROM THE REGISTRATION ROLLS?

    My name could be found in a number of districts in two Indiana counties since 1958 and also in Nevada and Florida voter registration rolls if they have not been deleted. Look at the registration book when you sign in; if there are blank signature lines by the same names repeatedly, chances are they are no longer registered or don’t bother to vote. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize blank signature spaces on those pages which appear to be Xeroxed election after election.

  6. I never received one of the post cards that you mentioned. However, I checked a couple months ago to make sure that I am still registered and checked again this morning. Still registered.

    Wonder if those post cards were sent out to targeted areas or just to randomly chosen addresses.

  7. I still say voting should be this way:
    1. No registration required. Why? Registration opens the chance of corruption, as your essay points out.
    2. On election day, or weekend?, go to a polling place convenient for you.
    3. Vote in state and district election without challenge.
    4. If you are voting in the county you live in, vote for county candidates.
    5. If you are voting in your own township or city, vote for your choice there.

    For all voting, just show a driver’s license or, if you don’t drive, take a piece of mail with you to show your residence.

    And, MOST IMPORTANT, when you are done voting, stick your thumb or finger into a fairly long lasting bottle of ink to show you’ve voted. Rules out voting in more that one place.

    And, part B: if you are traveling and won’t be in your home county on election day, go to the voting center and vote there, and dip your thumb there.
    If you are going to be out of the state or country during that time, sorry, but you just don’t get to vote that election.
    Simple, free of corruption, and let’s everybody vote with no questions asked.

  8. Just outrageous and totally un-American. Thank God folks like those at the Brennan Center for Justice are taking this on. Between the very creative gerrymandering and this the slow walking coup d’ etat just keeps rolling on and it is being done by those Republicans that are proud to call themselves Americans. They are hugely prideful of their standing for the pledge of allegiance, saluting the flag, and going to church and yet are totally blinded to what all that is supposed to stand for – our freedom. They are the true despicables.

    If someone has written something that traces their de-evolution from commonly held American values to their current aberrant thinking and tries to explains it I would love to read it since it is one of the most perplexing and also damning parts of contemporary America along with everything else that is off the rails today. Popular suffrage is really on the ropes today thanks to these fools.

  9. Thank you for the link, Sheila. My husband and I are both still registered, but never received any postcards from the state. Like Nancy, I have to wonder if those cards were only sent to certain areas. The ones that lean left.

  10. I was also purged. I received the postcard so it was not returned as undeliverable. I have voted in every election at the same polling place for 15 years. I have never been registered in another state. I emailed the Secretary of State. I was advised that I had to contact my local election office to be reinstated. I checked online locally a few days later. It showed me as registered. I then checked the Secretary of State site. Magically, I was shown as registered. I emailed the Secretary of State and asked how this could happen. No response. I know of five other people in similar circumstances that have been purged. I learned in a subsequent conversation with someone in the local office that Connie Lawson can see my voting record back to 1983. I doubt that she would like it. Perhaps that is now just cause for being purged in her rule book. Then again, maybe foreign hackers are even better than we think.

  11. Yes, purged from rolls after receiving postcard, which indicated I was to do nothing if there was no change in my status. Reason: hyphenated name that was not on voter rolls. I’ve voted in every election and most every primary. Odd, as I’ve used the same name, and have lived at the same address, for 29 years. Never had a problem. Until this year. Had to call and get back on the list. Easy enough. And yet, I wasn’t notified my name had been taken off. I happened to check the online voter app.

    Query: what would have occurred if I had assumed my name was still listed as active and went to my polling place on Election Day? No name, no vote.

    This purge is underhanded, disgusting and deplorable. About as awful as Marion County having ONE early polling location for an estimated half million voters.

  12. Tom,

    “If someone has written something that traces their de-evolution from commonly held American values to their current aberrant thinking and tries to explains it I would love to read it since it is one of the most perplexing and also damning parts of contemporary America along with everything else that is off the rails today.”

    Tom, take a look at http://www.Democracide.info. It’s a 14 page essay, entitled “DEMOCRACIDE: The Far Right’s Path to Power” which my companion, Barbara Hunter Walch, and I edited and distributed 25 years ago to the progressive groups in North Florida.

  13. The problems of the Religious Right/Far Right have been expanding exponentially since we published the essay.

    A more up to date reading would be a new book [2017], “Democracy in Chains” by Nancy MacLean, a history professor at Duke University.

  14. It seems to be that the in-person voter fraud is committed by conservatives. Remember Charlie White? Here’s a link to the Brad Blog that lists all of the events in 2012. He and Greg Palast have covered voter suppression and cross check for a decade. http://www.bradblog.com/?p=9467

  15. Lawson’s lame attempts to suppress voting via better efficiency in voter list housekeeping is a possible violation of (as I recall) U.S. Code,Title 42, Section 1981 et seq. where treble damages are available upon proof of such violation. These Republicans with their extreme gerrymandering techniques already have a built-in supermajority, so why would they want to efficiently housekeep when the present system is so politically rewarding? > further voter suppression, pure and simple, however flimsey the pretext.

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