Voters remain at risk of disenfranchisement as a result of the sometimes controversial practice of voter purging.

July 20, 2018

Voter Purges – the often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls by deleting names from registration lists – are a growing threat to the franchise. Responsible voter list maintenance is necessary and appropriate as voters die, move, or otherwise become ineligible. Done wrong, however, purges can knock large numbers of eligible voters off the roll, often with little notice or none at all. Voters only discover they have been purged when they go to cast ballots and find themselves missing from the list. This results in eligible Americans being forced to cast provisional ballots or not being able to vote at all.

Voter purges can go wrong when election officials use bad data that wrongly includes eligible voters to generate “purge” lists, or do no match information carefully enough – leading two different individuals to be confused for the same person. Purges are also problematic when done in secret, or with insufficient notice to the public or voters getting purged. 

Over the last decade, jurisdictions have increased the rate with which they purge the voter rolls substantially. There has been a particular increase in purge rates in areas formerly covered by preclearance – the portion of the Voting Rights Act that required areas with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval before instituting voting changes. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision striking down preclearance, formerly-covered jurisdictions are purging at substantially higher rates than other parts of the country.

At the same time, numerous states have conducted purges that violate federal law, and states continue to have policies on the books that provide for illegal purges. In addition to research and monitoring of voter purge practices, the Brennan Center provides legal assistance and advocacy to ensure that voter purges are non-discriminatory and do not result in disenfranchisement of eligible voters.

Related Work:

Purges: A Growing Threat to the Right to Vote (July 20, 2018)

New York Times: How the Midterm Elections May Be Compromised (July 19, 2018)

Voter Purges: The Risks in 2018 (February 27, 2018)  

Voter Purges (September 30, 2008)

Press Release: New Report: Increase in Voter Purges Threatens Ballot Access in November (July 20, 2018)

Letters Sent to Maine and Alabama Secretaries of State (July 19, 2018)

How Purges Threaten to Disenfranchise Voters Under the Radar (July 20, 2018)

With Midterms Looming, Conservative Groups Push Aggressive Voter Purges (June 25, 2018)

Indiana NAACP and League of Women Voters of Indiana v. Lawson (June 12, 2018)

Public Interest Legal Foundation Letters (November 22, 2017)

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