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New Report: Increase in Voter Purges Threatens Ballot Access in November

The Brennan Center’s analysis found that purge rates have especially increased in areas with a history of discrimination that are no longer required to get election changes precleared in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

July 20, 2018

New York, N.Y. – In the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted federal protec­tions for voters, a quiet threat to voting rights has grown — purges of voter regis­tra­tion rolls. And it’s a trend that could silence millions of voices at the polls this Novem­ber, accord­ing to a new report released today by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
 
Purges: A Grow­ing Threat to the Right to Vote cata­logs the scope and volume of voter purges, or the often-flawed process of clean­ing up voter rolls by delet­ing names from regis­tra­tion lists. It also outlines steps states should take to protect from overly-aggress­ive list main­ten­ance. The report comes the same week the Bren­nan Center sent letters to Secret­ar­ies of State in Alabama and Maine, warn­ing them that their current purge processes likely viol­ate federal law.
 
The Bren­nan Center’s analysis found that purge rates have increased across the coun­try, espe­cially in areas with a history of discrim­in­a­tion that are no longer required to get elec­tion changes precleared in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Had purge rates contin­ued in these areas at the same pace as rates in juris­dic­tions not subject to preclear­ance at that time, 2 million fewer voters would have been deleted from voter rolls between the elec­tions of 2012 and 2016.
 
“The Shelby County decision opened the floodgates for a rise of voter suppres­sion laws like voter ID, and now we have reason to be concerned it had the same impact on purges,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program and head of its voting rights and elec­tions project. “Some states deleted more voters’ names than they had in the past, increas­ing the chance that eligible voters find them­selves miss­ing from the rolls on Elec­tion Day. We did not find one state that was doing enough to protect against bad purges.”
 
In their research, members of the voting team pored over data from 6,600 cities, towns, and counties across 49 states. They also found:

  • Between the federal elec­tions of 2014 and 2016, almost 4 million more names were purged from the rolls than between 2006 and 2008.
  • Since 2013, eight states have either engaged in illegal purges or passed laws and policies that allow for ones that would viol­ate federal law.
  • States are using notori­ously unre­li­able data­bases to flag poten­tially ineligible voters. One of the most preval­ent, Crosscheck, is run by the offi­cial who formerly headed Pres­id­ent Trump’s “Voter Fraud” Commis­sion.
  • A new coterie of activ­ist groups is push­ing for aggress­ive purges by haul­ing local elec­tion offi­cials into court, claim­ing that their purge prac­tices aren’t zeal­ous enough.

“It is import­ant to keep voter lists up-to-date and accur­ate,” said Jonathan Brater, a coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “But any effort must at the very minimum be guided by the safe­guards outlined under federal law. There are reforms like auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion that help accom­plish that goal, without rely­ing on bad data or sloppy processes.”
 
To read the full report, click here. To learn more about the work of the Bren­nan Center’s Voting Rights and Elec­tions Project, click here.
 

To connect with a Bren­nan Center expert for more inform­a­tion or an inter­view, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646–292–8316.

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