“As long as I’m secretary of state of Alabama,” John Merrill proclaimed in 2016, “you’re going to have to show some initiative to become a registered voter in this state.” Merrill, a Republican, is still secretary of state. But Tuesday’s special election proved his declaration was incomplete. In Alabama, showing initiative isn’t always sufficient to become a registered voter. Under Merrill’s regime, a multitude of voters—most of them in majority-black counties—struggled to cast their ballots in the race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones. Unprepared poll workers spread misinformation. Bewildered citizens were forced to fill out confusing, redundant paperwork. Qualified voters were told they could not vote. And the state may well have run afoul of federal law.
After tackling partisan gerrymandering in October, the U.S. Supreme Court will take on the controversial issue of voter purges in a November case that could have major implications for the 2018 mid-term elections. Scheduled for oral argument on Nov. 8, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute will determine whether failure to cast a ballot in recent elections, or “voter inactivity,” can lawfully trigger efforts to remove a person from the voter registration rolls. Critics say the purge policy used by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and disproportionately impacts black, Hispanic and poor voters who traditionally support Democrats. Republicans argue that fraud by ineligible voters can occur if people who die or move away aren’t regularly identified and cleared from the registration rolls as the NVRA requires.
Ohio: He Didn’t Vote in a Few Elections. In the Next One, Ohio Said He Couldn’t. | The New York Times
Larry Harmon, a software engineer who lives near Akron, Ohio, says he is “a firm believer in the right to vote.” But sometimes he stays home on Election Day, on purpose. In 2012, for instance, he was unimpressed by the candidates. He did not vote, he said, because “there isn’t a box on the ballot that says ‘none of the above.’” Three years later, Mr. Harmon did want to vote, against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. But his name was not on the list at his usual polling place. It turned out that Mr. Harmon’s occasional decisions not to vote had led election officials to strike his name from the voting rolls. On Nov. 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the officials had gone too far in making the franchise a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.
A civil rights organization is asking Alabama’s secretary of state to restore hundreds of thousands of people to active voter status after what the group described as widespread confusion in election day. In a Friday letter to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, the Southern Poverty Law Center said it believes large numbers of people were incorrectly moved to inactive voting status during an update of rolls. Merrill responded that his office followed the law. The secretary of state’s office said 340,162 people were put on inactive voter status in the required update of voting rolls.
While it’s a non-election year in Indiana, counties across the state have taken action to clean up voter registration lists. The Indiana Election Commission set a deadline of March 10 to remove inactive voters, who have not voted since 2014. Vigo County purged inactive voters on March 7. The county cut its voter registration list 10.5 percent — 7,960 voters — resulting in the county’s voter registration dipping to 71,558 from 79,518. “We knew we had a lot of voters who no longer live here,” said Robert Lawson Jr., co-director of the Vigo County Voter Registration department.
Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson on Tuesday announced plans to reinstate thousands of Oregon voters on the inactive list and keep thousands more from lapsing into inactive status. Under current law, Oregon voters are given inactive status and are no longer mailed a ballot if they haven’t voted in at least five years. Richardson is proposing an administrative rule change to keep voters from landing on the inactive list until ten years of not voting. In his first press conference since being elected secretary of state, Richardson, a Republican, said the rule change would reinstate at least 30,000 voters and keep another 30,000 from going inactive.
In Oregon — where its first-in-the-nation automatic-voter registration system has been hailed as a pioneer in knocking down voter-access barriers — it takes just five years of failing to participate in an election before a registered voter gets knocked from the active voter rolls and no longer receives a ballot in the mail. Roughly 400,000 registered Oregonian voters have been flagged as inactive at some point in time, a number that this year is expected to grow by another 30,000 who registered during the 2012 general election when President Barack Obama was up for re-election. For Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, five years isn’t long enough. So this year, he’s doubling that timeline to 10 years.
Voting Blogs: 15 States File Amicus Brief Seeking Clarification on NVRA, Non-Voting and List Maintenance | Election Academy
Fifteen states have filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to hear a case in order to clarify if and how states may use evidence of non-voting as a factor in removing voters from the rolls. The question stems from an Ohio case I wrote about last April. There, plaintiffs challenged the state’s “supplemental process” for list maintenance, which uses failure to vote over a two-year period as a trigger for mailings seeking confirmation that the voter still wishes to vote. The allegation is that the use of non-voting as a trigger violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which expressly prohibits the removal of voters simply for failure to vote.
Should voting sporadically in past elections be grounds to remove a voter from the election rolls? This is the issue being fought out in Ohio, the crucial swing state where a federal court recently upheld the controversial purging of scores of thousands of voters from the rolls for failing to participate in three consecutive federal elections. Updating voter rolls for accuracy, change of address and death is a routine task carried out by elections officials everywhere, but only a few states remove voters for reasons of inactivity. Ohio’s purge prompted a lawsuit by civil liberties groups accusing the Republican-controlled state government of engaging in suppression of minority and poor voters who tended to favor Democratic candidates. But last month, a federal district judge found that the policy of the Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted, of purging a voter after six years of inactivity and failure to reply to a state warning did not violate “the integrity of the election process.” An appeal is being considered.
Chad McCullough, 44, was born in Ohio and has lived in Butler County for about nine or 10 years, he says. Last November, McCullough and his wife made their way to the local polling station in southwest Ohio to cast their ballots. But as he attempted to exercise his right to participate in the democratic process, a poll worker told him that he couldn’t find his name on the voter registration list — McCullough was no longer registered. “I had no idea that my voter registration could be cancelled, even if I did not move,” McCullough said. McCullough is among tens of thousands of voters in Ohio, many from low-income neighborhoods and who typically vote for Democratic candidates, who have been deemed ineligible to vote by Ohio election officials last year simply because they haven’t voted enough — a move that disenfranchises voters and is illegal, voting rights advocates say. McCullough’s comments are now part of a federal lawsuit against Ohio’s Secretary of State — a legal action that has spurred heavy debate among voting rights activists and elected officials during the 2016 election cycle.
When Larry Harmon tried to vote on a marijuana initiative in November in his hometown of Kent, Ohio, the 59-year-old software engineer found his name had been struck from the voter rolls. Two hours south in Zanesville, restaurant worker Chris Conrad, 37, was also told he was no longer registered. Both men later found out why: they had not voted often enough. As the Nov. 8 elections loom, officials in Ohio have removed tens of thousands of voters from registration lists because they have not cast a ballot since 2008. All U.S. states periodically cleanse their voter rolls, but only a handful remove voters simply because they don’t vote on a regular basis. And nowhere could the practice have a greater potential impact in the state-by-state battle for the White House than Ohio, a swing state that has backed the winner in every presidential election since 1960. Voters of all stripes in Ohio are affected, but the policy appears to be helping Republicans in the state’s largest metropolitan areas, according to a Reuters survey of voter lists. In the state’s three largest counties that include Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods.
Ohio House Democrats and some liberal advocacy groups want to put an end to the state’s purging of people from voter-registration rolls just because they move within the state or have not voted for a few years. But Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office says Ohio is following federal law when it clears inactive voters off the rolls. Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, says Ohio is too aggressive in purging people from the voter rolls. It has removed 2 million names over the past five years. Husted’s office said that total includes more than 400,000 deceased voters.
The Government Accountability Board is reaching out to inactive voters as it tries to clean up the state’s voter registration roll. Postcards are being mailed out to nearly 100,000 inactive registered voters in Wisconsin. “State law says that after every major November election you have to look back and see who didn’t vote in the last four years and then you have to contact them like we do with this postcard,” says Reid Magney with the GAB.
The state elections board has mailed postcards to nearly 100,000 registered voters in Wisconsin who have not cast ballots in the past four years. The state Government Accountability Board on Monday says the postcard titled “Notice of Suspension” is one of the steps it takes to ensure that inactive voters are removed from the statewide voter list.
If you haven’t voted in the last two major elections and still want to be a registered voter, you may want to make a visit or call the county clerk’s office before the next election. According to County Clerk Rosalie Riley, the clerk’s office was instructed by Gov. Susana Martinez to remove from its list any voters who have not recently participated in an election. “It was mandatory by the state,” Riley said. “We had 3,230 names on our list to purge, and we’ve only had eight on that list who were saved.” The list, according to Riley, came from New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran.
More than 696,400 registered voters in Indiana are now considered inactive, due to the state’s voter list update. But those voters will still be able to vote in elections through the federal election in 2016 before being removed from the voter poll lists, according to Secretary of State Connie Lawson. If they do not vote in any election prior to January 2016, county voter registration offices will remove their records from poll lists. Two federal election cycles, or up to four years, must pass before a county may remove an inactive voter from a list. August 6th was the federal deadline for counties to process data from the voter list refresh before the November 2014 election.
Secretary of State Connie Lawson has identified 727,000 potentially inaccurate voter registration records across Indiana. A massive May postcard mailing to all 4.4 million registered Hoosier voters saw about 16 percent returned as undeliverable. Starting this week, the state is sending a second, forwardable postcard to those registrants urging them to update their address and voter registration data. “Inaccurate voter information impairs the integrity of our voting process, and it artificially lowers our voter turnout statistics,” Lawson said. Hoosiers who receive a second postcard must update or confirm their voter information by July 24. Those who do not will be placed on “inactive” status. Inactive registrants still can vote this year, in the 2015 municipal elections and 2016 elections. But inactive voters who fail cast a ballot or update their registrations by 2017 will become eligible for removal from the poll lists.
The state of Ohio agreed to a settlement Monday with voting awareness groups Judicial Watch and True the Vote, effectively ending a lawsuit that lasted almost a year and a half. The case dates to August 2012, when the groups claimed Secretary of State Jon Husted hadn’t taken reasonable steps to keep ineligible voters out of polling places. Monday’s settlement, which involves no money, established nine criteria for Husted’s office to follow, ensuring compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, known widely as the “Motor Voter” Act.
Editorials: Secretaries of State: A Key Front in the Battle to Protect Voting Rights | Steve Rosenthal/Huffington Post
Across the country we are witnessing a wholesale attack by the right wing on workers, unions, women’s health, the environment, LGBT issues, civil rights, immigration and nearly every other right, protection and civil liberty that Americans hold near and dear. In recent years, Republicans have invested in and won key state legislative victories, which has resulted in lopsided redistricting that will make the work for progressives even more difficult at the state and federal level for years to come. At the cornerstone of the GOP strategy is an assault on voting rights in state after state, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in this country in decades. The right wing understands that their views are out of step with the rapidly increasing progressive majority in America — women, people of color, union members, LGBT and young voters. And the only way they can win is by attempting to prevent this new progressive majority from voting. If we are to turn things around, finding new ways to defend fair and equal access to the ballot must be a top priority for progressives.
Back in April when a new election law was making its way through the legislature, we expressed doubts about whether there’d be time by Election Day to prepare the underlying technology. So we’ve got to hand it to all involved in last week’s election: It went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped, even with the bells and whistles of same-day registration, universal mail ballots and ballots sent to inactive voters. Next year’s midterm election, which features contests for U.S. Senate and governor, will of course attract more voters and pose a bigger challenge. But nothing in this year’s experience suggests the system won’t be ready. It is now remarkably easy to vote in Colorado — even easier than in 2012, when it was already a breeze. And that’s a good thing, even if the mechanism — paper ballots and stamps — seems remarkably retro in this golden age of electronic communication.
The Democratic Party of Virginia is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the State Board of Elections and the commonwealth’s 132 local registrars from purging names from their voter registration lists. The move, less than a month before statewide elections, comes ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline to register to vote. A judge will hear the injunction request Oct. 18 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The purge list of 57,000 voters — broken down by locality and provided to local registrars by the State Board of Elections — is “replete with errors” and includes thousands of voters who reside in Virginia and who are lawfully registered to vote, according to a memorandum filed late last week in support of the Democratic Party’s motion. The State Board of Elections said in a statement that it is required by federal law to “conduct list maintenance activities to ensure the accuracy of the voter rolls.” It says it does not cancel voters by itself but directs local registrars to “carefully review all data” to ensure it properly cancels registrations.
Hundreds of thousands of inactive Wisconsin voters have been removed from local voting rolls as government officials undergo regular maintenance. More than 220,000 voters were removed in May by the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan agency tasked with overseeing the state’s elections and campaign finance laws. “Local clerks have recorded who all voted in November, and who didn’t. We can see who hasn’t voted in the last four years, and those people get postcards,” said Reid Magney, a GAB spokesman. If voters didn’t respond to the postcard mailed to their address, they are listed as inactive voters and removed from local voting rolls. The GAB conducts this regular maintenance of voting rolls during odd-numbered years after a presidential or gubernatorial election.
The governor is expected to sign a measure into law that would redefine how elections in Colorado are run, allowing same-day voter registration and having ballots mailed to all registered voters. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the Democrat-sponsored bill Friday, according to two people working closely with the measure. They asked to remain anonymous because an official announcement had not been made. The bill passed with unanimous support from Democrats, but not a single Republican voted for it, citing concerns about voter fraud with same-day registration. Republicans also argued the measure would be a game-changer for future elections, and some called the measure the most important of the session that was packed with contentious legislation.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler has won the latest but perhaps not the last battle over whether ballots should be mailed to inactive voters. Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez sided with Gessler, who adopted a rule last year blocking clerks from automatically sending mail ballots to inactive voters in city and school board elections in a suit brought by Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson. Martinez said Denver’s status as a home-rule county did not exempt it from following state election rules. “I think it’s fundamentally an equal-treatment issue,” Gessler said. “The rules and provisions El Paso County uses needs to be the same ones that Denver uses. … You can’t have one county, for instance, that wants to leave the polls open for an hour and another that leaves them open for 20.”
Colorado Democrats are planning sweeping changes to how elections are run in the state, to the dismay of Republican leaders who say they’ve been excluded from crafting a bill that that would allow same-day voter registration and require mailed ballots to every eligible voter. A bill of more than 100 pages is expected to be introduced this week, likely sparking a big partisan fight over whether the changes benefit one party over the other. Supporters of the changes, which also include eliminating the so-called “inactive voter” status, say the goal is to make voting more accessible. “I think people are like me, they just want people engaged in the Democratic process,” said Democratic Sen. Angela Giron, one of the bill sponsors. She insisted they didn’t exclude Republicans from the process. Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who oversees elections and has butted heads with Democrats on a range of issues, said the bill was “written in complete secrecy excluding anyone who may have a different point of view.”
Many people who turned up to cast their vote on Saturday were surprised to find out they were one of 240,000 West Australians that were not listed on the electoral roll, prompting the WA Electoral Commission to look to other states for a solution. WA Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately said while the commission often contacted people at what were believed to be their new addresses, the onus was for voters to respond and provide their details so they could be enrolled. Some people simply chose not to turn up, despite voting being compulsory. Mr Gately said a solution which had been picked up in New South Wales, was to enrol people automatically as a result of change of address information supplied to government departments. For this to happen, legislative change is required.
State elections officials removed about 52,000 inactive voters from Louisiana’s voter rolls after November’s presidential election, according to new secretary of state office statistics. State Elections Commissioner Angie Rogers said election laws require the purge of voter registration rolls once every two years or so, to remove the names of people who have not voted in the past two federal elections or any state or local race during that time period. “They have never voted in any state or federal election,” Rogers said. “They are obviously not here or don’t want to vote.”
A Colorado state district court judge on Monday ruled that state law allows county clerks the authority to send ballots to “inactive failed to vote” voters in mail-in-only elections. The decision comes in a case where Secretary of State Scott Gessler sued Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson in 2011 for sending mail ballots to such so-called “inactive” voters. District Court Judge Edward D. Bronfin ruled against Gessler — an election-law attorney — saying that Johnson’s interpretation of the law is correct and that clerks statewide are permitted to mail ballots to inactive voters.
The voting rights of thousands of Colorado citizens were protected today as a state district court judge blocked Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s controversial interpretation of Colorado’s mail ballot election law. Under Sec. Gessler’s reading of the law, county clerks could not mail ballots in elections conducted only by mail to voters who did not vote in the most recent general election. In effect, thousands of eligible voters — including many longtime voters — would not be able to vote unless they jumped through new and burdensome hurdles. Colorado election law gives counties the option of conducting certain elections by mail. In these elections, there are no traditional polling places; instead, citizens vote by mailing in ballots sent to them by county election administrators. Just before the November 2011 election, Sec. Gessler issued an order prohibiting counties from mailing ballots to voters who did not vote in the last general election (2010). These voters, so called “inactive-failed to vote” voters, could only be sent mail ballots if they submitted to a confusing and burdensome administrative process to “reactivate” their status by effectively re-registering to vote.
Arizona’s largest counties plan to ask lawmakers for authority to purge some inactive voters from the permanent early-voting list in an effort to decrease the number of provisional ballots cast in future elections. Nearly half of Arizona voters who cast provisional ballots at the polls in the 2012 general election were asked to do so because they previously had signed up for permanent early voting, meaning ballots already had been sent to them in the mail, according to The Arizona Republic’s analysis of statewide election data. In Maricopa County, the state’s largest, more than 59,000 voters who signed up for early voting nonetheless showed up at the polls to cast ballots on Election Day, according to county elections data. Some county elections officials hope to see statutory changes that would allow them to evaluate whether certain voters on the permanent early-voting list should remain there.