On Monday, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s controversial voter purge program in the case Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. Ohio removes occasional voters from the rolls if they: fail to vote in a general election; do not respond to a postcard asking them to confirm their address; then fail to vote in two more general elections. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that the purge does not violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Given the Supreme Court’s ruling, other states may adopt Ohio’s Supplemental Process as an aggressive way of removing inactive voters from the rolls. If Ohio’s Supplemental Process were adopted nationwide, how many other infrequent voters could be removed from the voter registration rolls? We try to answer that question.
One of the plaintiffs named in Husted was Larry Harmon, who lives near Akron. Registered to vote in Ohio since 1976, Harmon voted in the 2008 general election but skipped the November elections of 2010, 2012, and 2014. Even though he didn’t move, wasn’t convicted of a felony or ruled incompetent, and didn’t die, he was purged from the rolls in 2015 because he didn’t respond to a postcard mailed to him after he missed the 2010 general election. When Mr. Harmon tried to vote in the 2015 November election, he was told he was no longer registered. He didn’t recall receiving the mailer.
How many people are like Larry Harmon? Let’s look at North Carolina. This is not easy to answer. The United States doesn’t have a centralized database of registered voters and their turnout histories. In a few states, however, we can make an estimate.
One of those states is North Carolina, where the voter file is publicly available. Election officials in North Carolina do not eliminate registered voters’ records when they die, move away or otherwise become ineligible to vote. Instead, the state flags voters with these conditions. It also lets us see snapshots of changes to voter records, including individual vote histories.