(FinalCall.com) – With significant increases in voter registrations around the country came startling news from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law that election officials across the country are routinely updating voter registrations rolls and removing millions of names through a process called purging that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error and vulnerable to manipulation.
“Purges can be an important way to ensure that voter rolls are dependable, accurate and up-to-date,” said Myrna PÃ¨rez, counsel at the Brennan Center and the author of the center’s report “Voter Purges.”
“Far too frequently, however, eligible, registered citizens show up to vote and discover their names have been removed from the voter lists because election officials are maintaining their voter rolls with little accountability and wildly varying standards,” she said.
Upon the Oct. 1 release of Voter Purges, the Brennan Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law began filing public records requests with election officials in 12 states to expose the purges that happened this year.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from registration rolls between 2004 and 2006, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
While the secret and inconsistent manner in which purges are conducted make it difficult to know exactly how many voters have been stricken from voting lists erroneously, Voter Purges cites four problematic practices that continue to threaten voters in 2008:
– Purges rely on error-ridden lists,
– Voters are purged secretly and without notice,
– ad “matching” criteria mean thousands of eligible voters will be caught up in purges,
– Insufficient oversight leaves voters vulnerable to erroneous or manipulated purges.
Purge practices vary dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with a lack of consistent voter protections and opportunities for mischief and mistakes in the process, the report said.
“There are valid ways and reasons to remove voters from the rolls such as people moving or those deceased,” explained Thad Hall, assistant professor of political science at the University of Utah, to The Final Call.
“The problem comes when the removal is not followed up to make sure it was correct. What are the procedures used to remove voters in a state? Are they moved from active to inactive voters rolls? If someone is put on an inactive roll they can still vote. Are they being removed because they were unresponsive to correspondence?”
The report reviews the state statutes, regulatory materials and news reports in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.
The Brennan Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law began filing public records requests in the 12 states. The states were chosen because they had flawed purges or voter registration practices in the past, use problematic purge procedures with insufficient protections for voters, recently conducted large-scale purges, or have specific practices in place that warrant further examination.
“Every year, the Election Protection hotline receives calls from across the country from eligible voters whose names have been removed from the voter rolls. We need to take the lid off the secret process of voter purges so we can remedy any problems we discover and ensure that they don’t recur in the future,” said Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which coordinates the national Election Protection program.
The problem is nationwide. In Mississippi earlier this year, a local election official discovered that another official had wrongly purged 10,000 voters from her home computer a week before the presidential primary.
In Muscogee, Ga., a county official purged 700 people from the voter lists, supposedly because they were ineligible to vote due to criminal convictions. The list included people who said they have never received so much as a parking ticket.
In Louisiana, including areas hit hard by hurricanes, officials purged approximately 21,000 voters, ostensibly for registering to vote in another state, but did not provide adequate opportunity to contest the records.
“Voter registration can be a problem,” said Mr. Hall. “It is a relatively new phenomenon that didn’t occur the first 100 years of this country. It controls who votes and who doesn’t. The problems come with removal without rules and removal without due process.”
Voter Purges contains several recommendations to improve the transparency, accountability, and accuracy of purges, including notice to individual voters and the public, strict and uniform criteria for the development of purge lists, and “fail-safe” provisions to protect voters from erroneous purges.
Mr. Hall encourages voters to head to the polls with confidence. “If there is a problem, ask for a provisional ballot. You have a right to receive one and vote using that. Provisional ballots are counted. A provisional ballot is used for voters when there is some question in regards to a given voter’s eligibility.”
A provisional ballot would be cast when a voter refuses to show a photo ID, in places where identification is required, a voter’s name does not appear on election rolls for the given precinct, a voter’s registration contains inaccurate or outdated information, such as the wrong address or a misspelled name or a voter’s ballot has already been recorded. Provisional ballots are counted depending upon verification of voter eligibility. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 guaranteed that voters could cast provisional ballots.