When most of us think of registering to vote, we think of it as a one-and-done process, when in fact voting might be a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Just because you registered to vote once, that doesn't mean that registration remains valid your whole life. There are many ways to lose your voting rights, and one of those ways is by not voting.
Some states and jurisdictions have been especially aggressive about removing registered voters from their voter rolls. A new study shows that a total of 17 million voters were purged nationwide in just two years from 2016 to 2018. Could one of them be you?
To be clear, there are some good reasons to remove people from a state's voter rolls -- if a person moves to another state, for example, or passes away. One more controversial reason is if a person hasn't voted recently.
An Ohio man who voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, but skipped 2012 and the 2010 and 2014 midterms, was purged from the state's voter rolls, and he sued. However, the Supreme Court not only said the removal was OK, but, under the circumstances, it was mandatory under federal voting laws.
And then there are even more questionable voter purges. Up until another Supreme Court decision in 2013, counties with a history of racial voting discrimination were required to clear any proposed changes in voting procedures to the Department of Justice or a federal court for approval. The Court ended that practice, on the grounds that it was no longer necessary to curb voter discrimination. But according to a study from the Brennan Center for Justice, those same counties are back at it, purging people from their voter rolls at a much higher rate than others.
The Brennan Center's data analysis showed that jurisdictions that once had federal oversight over their election practices "began to purge more voters after they no longer had to pre-clear proposed election changes," and showed a slightly wider gap in purge rates than the rest of the country.
"This is of particular interest, the Center noted, "because this continued -- and even widening -- gap debunks possible claims that certain states would experience a one-time jump when free of federal oversight, but then return to rates in line with the rest of the country. They haven't."
Researchers also noted that one of the methods for purging voters is searching for people registered to vote in other states with the same name and birthdate. While this can sometimes reveal someone has moved and re-registered, multiple people can have the same name and date of birth, causing someone to be needlessly purged. According to the study, "minority voters are more likely to share names than white voters, potentially exposing them to a greater risk of being purged."
So, just because you've registered to vote, and even if you've voted before, there's a chance you may have been purged from your state or county's voter rolls. And if your state doesn't have election day registration, you could be prevented from participating in an upcoming election.
Be sure to confirm your valid voter registration before heading to the polls. And if you've been improperly removed from registered voter rolls, or have questions about protecting your right to vote, talk to an experienced civil rights attorney.