Larry Harmon, 60, hadn’t voted in a while when he drove to the high school in November 2015 to weigh in on a local referendum in Kent, Ohio. But he wasn’t allowed to cast his ballot. “I served in the military and they tell us, ‘Oh, you’re fighting for freedom.'” he said. “Then you come back and you’re taken off the voter rolls because you didn’t vote for two elections? That doesn’t make sense. I thought that was our right.” Thanks to six years of inactivity — and a single piece of unanswered mail asking him to confirm his voter registration — Harmon, now a plaintiff in a major voter purge lawsuit before the Supreme Court, was removed from Ohio’s voter rolls. “I’ve been paying my taxes, paying my property taxes, registering my car,” he said. “All the data was there for (election officials) to know that I was there.” Harmon was a casualty of the latest voting battleground: How America’s lists of registered, eligible voters are maintained.
The rolls are messy, due to deaths as well as those who move between states and neglect to unregister from their past place of residence. Both sides of the debate say something should be done to ensure greater accuracy.
… Voter purges — what election officials call the removal of outdated registrations — have existed as long as elections have, and are required by federal law. Clean, accurate voter rolls might sound like an obvious goal. It saves local authorities money while making election operations more efficient. But the country’s voter rolls are typically a mess. A 2012 Pew survey found one in eight active registrations to be invalid or inaccurate. The rolls showed 1.8 million dead voters still on the books, while 2.75 million people had registrations in more than one state.
One reason? The decentralized, localized voter rolls are built for registration, not removal. Getting on the rolls at a new address is easier than removing your name from the county you just left, and different states and districts manage their rolls differently, too.