News Release

The Secret World of Voter Purges

MYRNA PEREZ
WENDY WEISER
Pérez is counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and the author of the report “Voter Purges.” Weiser is the deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. The Brennan Center is today releasing one of the first systematic examinations of voter purging — the practice of removing voters from registration lists in order to update state registration rolls.

The center performed a study of purge practices in twelve states: Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. The report states that “election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.”

Pérez stated: “Purges can be an important way to ensure that voter rolls are dependable, accurate and up-to-date. 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. … Our report finds the following: According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, between 2004 and 2006, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from registration rolls. … Voter Purges finds four problematic practices with voter purges that continue to threaten voters in 2008: purges rely on error-ridden lists; voters are purged secretly and without notice; bad ‘matching’ criteria mean that thousands of eligible voters will be caught up in purges; and insufficient oversight leaves voters vulnerable to erroneous or manipulated purges. The report reveals that purge practices vary dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, that there is a lack of consistent protections for voters, and that there are often opportunities for mischief and mistakes in the purge process.”

Weiser added: “The voter rolls are the gateway to voting, and a citizen typically cannot cast a vote that will count unless his or her name appears on the rolls. Purges remove names from the voter rolls, typically preventing wrongfully purged voters from having their votes counted. Given the close margins by which elections are won, the number of people wrongfully purged can make a difference. We should not tolerate purges that are conducted behind closed doors, without public scrutiny, and without adequate recourse for affected voters.”

The report provides some examples of recent purges which were made public:

* In Mississippi earlier this year, a local election official discovered that another official had wrongly purged 10,000 voters from her home computer just a week before the presidential primary.

* In Muscogee, Georgia this year, 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 claimed to have never even received 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, without sufficient voter protections.

* In 2004, Florida planned to remove 48,000 “suspected felons” from its voter rolls even though many of those identified were in fact eligible to vote. When the flawed process generated a list of 22,000 African Americans to be purged and only 61 voters with Hispanic surnames, in spite of Florida’s sizable Hispanic population, it took pressure from voting rights groups to stop Florida officials from using the purge list.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167