Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says he has a good reason for targeting voters for removal from the rolls if they haven’t voted in a while. The problem is, the facts don’t bear him out. Telling someone that they cannot vote now because they didn’t vote in the past is a time-tested method of voter suppression. In years past, to make it harder for people of color and people in other underrepresented groups to vote, some states required all voters to re-register to vote before every election. Congress ended this practice when it passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993. The NVRA ensures that registered voters do not have to re-register simply because they missed an election or two. Now, before states and counties may remove registered voters from the voter rolls, they must respect certain safeguards—such as confirming that a voter moved to a new home in a different jurisdiction—that are designed to protect eligible voters’ rights to have their say. But when one form of voter suppression is taken away, there is no shortage of creativity in finding ways around it. Now, Husted is attempting to flout the NVRA’s protections by using a person’s failure to vote as a supposed indication that the person has moved.
Under Husted’s directives, if a registered voter does not vote in an election or engage in other voting-related activities (like turning in an updated voter registration application) for two years, then Ohio sends that voter an “address confirmation notice.” If the voter does not respond to the notice and does not vote in the next two federal general elections, then the voter will be removed from the voter rolls. If the voter then shows up to vote in an election without re-registering first, their vote will count for nothing.
Maintaining accurate lists of eligible voters is important, and using reliable information that people have moved—like post office information—to start the address confirmation process makes sense. But a major flaw with Ohio’s procedure is that a person’s failure to vote is a terrible indicator of whether they have moved.
Project Vote looked at U.S. census data to see whether people who don’t vote are people who recently moved. The result? It is actually more likely than not that a person who did not vote has not recently moved. In other words, someone’s failure to vote is a completely unreliable and inaccurate way to predict whether they moved. The data come from the Census Bureau’s Voting and Registration Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is distributed every two years to approximately 56,000 households, which are selected to form a representative sample of the U.S. population. As part of this survey, the Census collects data on both voter turnout and “residential mobility”—that is, the extent to which people move.