State voter rolls languish with millions of inaccurate entries.
In 2012, the Pew Center on the States released an alarming report: as many as 24 million voter registrations in the United States—roughly one out of eight—were inaccurate or outdated. Worse, registrations for nearly two million deceased individuals remained on the rolls, and 2.75 million voters were registered in more than one state. More recent analyses indicate that roughly 200 counties nationwide have more registered voters than voting-age citizens, and hundreds more purport to have nearly 100% voter registration. States simply aren’t doing enough to maintain their voter rolls.
That’s a big problem, and people can take advantage of states’ poor record-keeping. For example, Nathan Parks was convicted of voting in both Colorado and Washington state in the 2016 election. Many others have been found guilty of similar duplicate voting in recent years, or even of voting in the name of deceased friends and family.
Honest elections depend on accurate records. Officials use voter registrations to administer elections and to help discern who is eligible to vote. Two federal laws, the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) obligate states to clean up and maintain the accuracy of their voter rolls, and in 2018 the United States Supreme Court confirmed that the removal of inaccurate entries was mandatory.
This process is often mischaracterized by partisan activists as a sinister-sounding “mass voter purge” that will cancel voting rights for millions. In reality, states are simply removing outdated voter registrations based on evidence that the voter is no longer eligible to vote at his or her registered address. In all likelihood, the voters allegedly being “purged” are already registered and voting at a new address. This cleanup process can take years; in Georgia, for instance, voters must be inactive for nine years and fail to reply to outreach efforts before a registration can be cleared. And if, despite safeguards like these, voters’ find their current registrations voided, they may simply re-register.
Voter roll cleanups have no impact on individual voting rights, but they do help states safeguard the integrity of elections.