This fall, millions of Americans may head to the polls only to find their names aren’t on voter registration lists anymore. These voters may have to cast provisional ballots. Or worse, they could be turned away from the polls altogether. The cause? Voter purges — an often-flawed method of cleaning up voter registration lists by deleting names from voter rolls. Purges, of course, aren’t necessarily a bad thing. State and local election officials have a real need to ensure voting lists are accurate and up-to-date. During the course of a lifetime, people move. Sometimes people change their names. And inevitably, people die. Voter rolls should reflect those changes. But purges are a growing threat that we’ve found may imperil the right to vote for millions of Americans in the midterm elections in November.
In the past decade, attacks on the vote have been treacherous: discriminatory voter ID laws, cutbacks in early voting and other complications that emerged from bad laws or policies formulated weeks, months or even years before Election Day.
For the most part, we could see those attacks coming, because of public debate in state legislatures or high-profile lawsuits challenging these bad policies in courthouses across the country.