For years, voter suppression has historically hindered the American democratic process, and there’s every reason to believe that will continue to be the case when it comes to the 2018 midterms. Whether it’s restrictive voting laws for ex-felons, heavily Republican-backed voter ID laws, or aggressive voter roll purge programs, a significant population of Americans (disproportionately African-American) regularly face disenfranchisement – and it’s a critical issue that continues to need the country’s attention.
When otherwise eligible voters are disenfranchised, and restricted from having their voices heard, it diminishes the integrity of elections. That’s why voting rights groups continue to fight against voter roll purge practices, which purportedly aim to maintain accurate and up-to-date voter rolls, by eliminating names of voters who have died or moved. Unfortunately, voter roll purges have far too often removed names of legitimate voters from rolls, and the consequences have been alarming.
Perhaps one of the most high-profile instances in recent years was the 2000 election in which President George W. Bush won by a 537-vote margin in Florida.
When otherwise eligible voters are disenfranchised, and restricted from having their voices heard, it diminishes the integrity of elections.
Before the election, Florida’s legislature ordered the removal of deceased registrants, and citizens with felony convictions from rolls – Florida imposes a lifetime voting ban on ex-felons. But it was later reported that at least 1,100 legitimate voters were mistakenly removed from the rolls, according to The New York Times, while some reports project thousands more legitimate voters than that number were prevented from casting a ballot. Though it’s unclear exactly how many voters were wrongly turned away from the polls, such significant numbers of misidentified eligible voters could have certainly swayed the election in a different direction. Not to mention a disproportionate percentage of voters on the purge list were black, and in recent history black people tend to lean Democratic.
But President Trump’s administration has expanded the voter roll purge practice, which is unsurprising, considering Trump has claimed there were 3-to-5 million ineligible votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, even though there’s been no concrete evidence to confirm that claim.
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Trump brought on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice chair to his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity last May. Kobach, who has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in four different voting rights lawsuits, expanded an anti-voter-fraud mechanism called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which extended to include 30 states since he was elected in 2010.
The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program is a database used, in theory, to detect potential cases of people voting in more than one location by identifying matches of names and dates of birth in different states. States participating in the program send voter registration information to Kansas, and in return, receive a list of matches. As the Washington Post reported, participating states decide how to move forward with the information, though the program provides guidelines on purging registrations.
The problem is, Crosscheck produces a significant number of errors and false positives.
According to an October analysis published by researchers at Harvard, Yale Law School, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and Microsoft Research, Crosscheck’s program would remove “300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote.” Voting rights activists have continued to fight against this practice, and according to the AP, Florida, Oregon, Washington, and Pennsylvania have left Crosscheck.
In November, nonpartisan public interest organization Common Cause, filed a lawsuit with the ACLU that challenged an Indiana law which allowed local election officials to immediately remove – without notice or waiting period – registered voters who matched in the Crosscheck program.
Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause, told VICE Impact that Indiana’s law bypassed the registration removal process under The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
Chapman also noted that removal procedures like in Indiana, have grave impacts for people of color. For one example, Koreans tend to have common surnames, and so would yield more matches, Chapman explained.
But Indiana isn’t the only state with troubling purge practices. The ACLU and public policy organization Demos, have filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), for violating the NVRA “when he purged voters based on their failure to vote,” a ACLU press release read in part.
In Ohio, if a registered voter doesn’t vote for two years, they are sent registration confirmation notices. If they don’t respond or don’t vote in the next two federal elections, they are removed from the rolls.
It’s been projected that Ohio’s practices have purged tens of thousands of Ohio’s infrequent voters prior to the November 2016 election.
“From our perspective that’s just a really inaccurate way of trying to assess who may have moved,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project told VICE Impact.
The Justice Department took the position that Ohio’s methods were prohibited under President Barack Obama’s administration, but Trump’s administration reversed the government’s position, and now supports Husted and Ohio’s purging method. The Supreme Court will hear the case on January 10.
In a press release for Husted, the Secretary of State reported that the voter purges have removed 532,000 deceased Ohioans from the rolls, and 1.6 million voters who were registered twice.
“In light of the national conversation about elections, Ohio has been commended for how we maintain accurate voter rolls and we don't want to take a step backwards,” Husted said in a statement according to the release.
But it’s been projected that Ohio’s practices have purged tens of thousands of Ohio’s infrequent voters prior to the November 2016 election. In September 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit halted Ohio’s purging practice, and as a result, at least 7,500 voters were able to cast a ballot even though their registrations had been removed in the purge. But with little evidence confirming widespread voter fraud, the justification for aggressive voter purges remain unexplained.
“We don’t see widespread coordinated activities that we’re frequently told are supposedly happening, [and] why these restrictive practices are supposed to be necessary,” Ho told VICE Impact. “Ohio has never said that they have a problem with people ineligibility voting in the names of registrants who’ve moved. There’s no evidence that that’s ever been a problem in the state of Ohio.”
According to a Reuters analysis, African-American residents in low-income areas in Ohio, are disproportionately hit the hardest with voter roll purges. And voters in Democratic-leaning counties in cities, like, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, are apparently removed from rolls twice the rate than Republican-leaning areas, according to a Reuters survey of voter lists.
Regardless, voter suppression in all forms is an issue that impacts everyone. If you believe infrequent voting should not impact your voter registration status, read more on the upcoming Supreme Court Case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.
And take action by supporting the American Civil Liberties Union Let People Vote effort to expand voting rights across the country.