On April 19, 2016, thousands of eligible Brooklyn voters dutifully showed up to cast their ballots in the presidential primary, only to find their names missing from the voter lists. An investigation by the New York state attorney general found that New York City’s Board of Elections had improperly deleted more than 200,000 names from the voter rolls. In June 2016, the Arkansas secretary of state provided a list to the state’s 75 county clerks suggesting that more than 7,700 names be removed from the rolls because of supposed felony convictions. That roster was highly inaccurate; it included people who had never been convicted of a felony, as well as persons with past convictions whose voting rights had been restored. And in Virginia in 2013, nearly 39,000 voters were removed from the rolls when the state relied on a faulty database to delete voters who allegedly had moved out of the commonwealth. Error rates in some counties ran as high as 17 percent.
These voters were victims of purges — the sometimes-flawed process by which election officials attempt to remove ineligible names from voter registration lists. When done correctly, purges ensure the voter rolls are accurate and up to-date. When done incorrectly, purges disenfranchise legitimate voters (often when it is too close to an election to rectify the mistake), causing confusion and delay at the polls.
Ahead of upcoming midterm elections, a new Brennan Center investigation has examined data for more than 6,600 jurisdictions that report purge rates to the Election Assistance Commission and calculated purge rates for 49 states.