The dark, ominous term “voter purging” was in the news a ton during the 2018 election cycle, but if you’re like us, you still don’t have a complete grasp on what it actually involves. So we’re taking an in-depth look into voter purging — how it’s supposed to work, how it’s been abused, and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.
How Does Voter Purging Work?
In short, voter purging refers to the maintenance of voter registration lists, also referred to as “voter rolls”. These voter rolls are super important because if you’re not on them come Election Day, you can’t vote (except in North Dakota, where voters don’t have to register at all). Purges, if done properly, ensure that voter rolls are dependable, accurate, and up-to-date by removing duplicate names, people who have moved, died, or are otherwise ineligible to vote. As you can imagine, the purge process should be handled with extreme care and oversight, or it could result in widespread confusion and disenfranchisement on Election Day.
How Has Purging Been Abused?
We saw allegations of voter suppression and purging play out in one of the most closely-watched contests of the 2018 election cycle, Georgia’s gubernatorial race. For those who didn’t follow it, here is the highlight reel:
Incumbent, Republican Governor, Nathan Deal was term-limited, meaning he couldn’t seek reelection.The two major-party candidates who ran for election were:
- Republican, Brian Kemp: Georgia’s current Secretary of State and overseer of the state’s elections (conflict of interest? maybe)
- Democrat, Stacey Abrams: first black female major-party gubernatorial nominee in United States history (significant? yes)
- Drama started swirling. Investigations revealed that over 53,000 registrations were suspended and 340,000 voters were improperly purged — both of which tied back to Kemp’s office (responsible for managing elections in Georgia) and disproportionately affected black voters.
- Oprah got involved.
- On November 7, Kemp declared victory over Abrams with 50.3% of the vote versus her 48.7%.
- On November 16, every county certified their votes with Kemp leading by 55,000 votes. Shortly after, Abrams suspended her campaign, instead of conceding, which officially ended the race.
- On November 27, Fair Fight Action, the non profit arm of Abrams’ voting rights organization, and Care in Action, a group that organizes domestic workers in Georgia, filed a 66-page lawsuit highlighting voting issues including voter purges, registration applications being put on hold, troubles at predominantly nonwhite voting precincts, and problems with voters’ absentee and provisional ballots. The lawsuit is still in progress.
How Can You Prevent Being Purged?
1) Know your state’s registration laws and deadlines. Voterly offers state-specific Voter Tools, including clear and easy-to-understand explanations of your state’s registration process, requirements, and deadlines. If you’re unsure if you’ve registered or whether your information is up-to-date, you can find the link to your state’s registration portal on Voterly, as well.
2) Vote consistently. In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in a controversial decision that states may remove people from voter rolls if they don’t vote and don’t reply to a notice in the mail asking if they want to stay registered. The lead plaintiff in the case, Larry Harmon, sued the state of Ohio after he discovered that after skipping one presidential election and two midterm elections, he was purged and couldn’t vote. “Use It or Lose It” purge policies vary from state to state, so make sure to check your home state’s policy on Voterly.
3) Sign up for Registration Monitoring. Once you’ve confirmed your registration, make sure to sign up for Registration Monitoring so you get notified of any changes — including party affiliation, registered address, or if you’ve been purged from the rolls completely. That way you can limit unpleasant surprises on Election Day.
4) When All Else Fails, Vote Provisional. If for some reason, evil prevails and you have been purged from the voter rolls or you’re having registration-related issues on Election Day, you should still show up to vote at your polling place. Because in 2002, Congress mandated that states enact the Help America Vote Act, which would allow you to cast a provisional ballot, and have your vote verified and counted after the election.