Why Are States So Important? Focus On: Voter Purging

Pomogitye!  We’ve heard a lot about foreign meddling in our electoral system – but given our Putinophile president, and Congressional Republicans’ decision to nix increased election-security funding, there’s not much you and I can do about it.

We can, however, counter the internal threats to electoral integrity from our own state governments, by electing responsible state officials. Because the Constitution affords states wide leeway in determining “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections,” elections are truly a state affair. Whether overseen by an elected secretary of state (MA), or a combination of chief official and governor-appointed, senate-approved board (RI), electoral policy is crafted, implemented, and overseen by elected state officers wielding enormous power.

Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Given that discrimination is institutionalized in our country’s founding document, it’s unsurprising that some of these officials have acted discriminatorily. Take voter purging, the practice of removing voters from the rolls: valid in cases of certain criminal convictions, mental incapacity, death, or change in residence, but illegal when used to toss eligible voters from the rolls.

Yet states have been tossing at increasing rates since 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s “preclearance” provision that subjected the most egregiously discriminatory states to heightened oversight.

Surprise, surprise: freed from scrutiny, many of these offenders reverted to their old, abhorrent tricks. A doozy of a report just released by the Brennan Center for Justice finds that Georgia, Texas, Virginia, and other former preclearance states began purging rolls at a significantly higher rate than other states, cumulatively removing more than 9 million voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections – 2+ million more than if their removal rates were comparable to the rest of the country’s.

Sad to say, northern states aren’t off the hook. Brennan finds that since 2013, eight states – including IN, NY, and ME – have either implemented unlawful rules or engaged in illegal purges, e.g. expunging voters before a mandated two-election waiting period. A prime tool in this duplicity is the wildly inaccurate “Crosscheck” interstate database, which disproportionately affects voters who frequently move (college students, military personnel), as well as those who share names, birthdates, and social security digits. Particularly hard hit are minority voters, who are much more likely than whites to have one of the most common 100 surnames in the US.

Fortunately (sort of), only 28 states use Crosscheck; a 2017 study found that if applied nationwide, Crosscheck would “impede 300 legal votes for every double vote prevented.”

And then there’s the whole “voter fraud”… fraud. Contrary to the administration’s proclivity to spot a (non-white) scammer behind every bush, suspected noncitizen voting constituted just .0001 percent of total votes cast in 2016. Nonetheless, states are increasingly scouring voter rolls to identify alleged non-citizens, while conservative activist groups are deploying lawsuits and/or propaganda to force more aggressive purging (ably aided by our president and Justice Department). Forty-six states allow challenges to a voter’s eligibility on a case-by-case basis, either at the polling place or before an election; when used en masse, the tactic ends up “functioning effectively as a purge that can operate outside” legal protections.

If you’ve crumpled in despair to the floor by now… take heart. As these violations surface, positive initiatives are beginning to blossom across the country. These include automatic voter registration, election-day registration, pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, deadline extensions, early voting, and state-level Voting Rights Acts – progressive policies enacted by progressive state lawmakers.

Let’s keep the trend going, flip red to blue, and help justice prevail… state by state.

– Juliet Eastland