In the 2008 presidential election, when Shelby County counted a record 401,081 votes cast on the Nov. 4 ballot, the final turnout of 66.9 percent was considered strong but still meant some 33 percent of the nearly 600,000 people on the county’s voter rolls chose not to participate. Was it apathy? Or, as recent aggressive moves by the county Election Commission suggest, was it something more simple — absence. A spring cleaning of the county’s voter rolls, based on identifying names of people who had not cast ballots in any federal election since 2006, has resulted in voting rolls that as recently as March showed 611,937 voters now listing just 431,054 names. The commission says there is a simple explanation for how some 180,000 names vanished from the publicly available voting rolls. The most substantial change involved moving 151,826 people who have not voted in any of the two most recent federal election cycles to “inactive” status. Those voters remain eligible to vote, but since they have not voted in any federal election over a four-year stretch, they are no longer considered “active” voters, and the commission, under the control of county Republicans since 2010, has decided to include only the “active” voters on its registered voting statistics.
If an “inactive” voter happens to show up to vote in any federal election over the next four years, that voter moves back to active status. The election commission also notifies voters by mail that their status has changed and supplies a form and business-reply envelope the voter can send back to stay on “active” status. But if a voter does not show up to vote in any federal election over an eight-year span and fails to otherwise contact the commission, that voter is purged from the rolls.
A smaller number of people, about 32,781, were affected by the more consequential process of being purged. Another 5,000 were purged based on other factors, including felony conviction, notification of address change or notice of death. Add up those numbers — or subtract them, as it were — and the result, according to commission chairman Robert Meyers, “increases the accuracy of our voter registration rolls.”