Ohio Election Chief Supports Plan to Remove Inactive Voters

Known as the six-year supplemental process, officials have routinely targeted voters who miss two years of elections to reduce potential for election fraud and need for casting provisional ballots at the polls.

by Doug Livingston, Akron Beacon Journal / August 28, 2019
Shutterstock/Blackboard

(TNS) — Ohio's top election chief says it's "highly, highly unlikely" that anyone will be wrongly removed from the state voter rolls next week. And as long as lawmakers act, he's in no hurry to tee up another round of idle registrations to be cancelled.

Known as the six-year supplemental process, state election officials have routinely targeted voters who miss two years of elections in an effort to reduce the potential for election fraud and the need for casting provisional ballots at the polls. The voter inactivity is often the result of people dying, moving out of state or leaving a phantom voter registration in the county where they last lived.

But through the scrutiny of journalists and voter advocacy groups, the state is discovering that some registrations are active and should have never been flagged for removal.

Once on the list, the idle voters get four years to respond to mailings or cast a ballot if they want to stay registered.

That current four-year window closes Sept. 6 for 235,610 voter registrations, some of which may be duplicates for people with old and new address in the state's system. Voters can search their names at https://bit.ly/2Yqddt7 to see if they're on the list. If removed, they can re-register at least 30 days before the next election at their local board of elections or online at https://bit.ly/2yukD0X.

While federal law requires states to maintain accurate and up-to-date voter rolls, critics say Ohio has applied the supplemental process too aggressively, especially in recent years when the practice has been called a "purge" of voters.

In 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sued then Secretary of State Jon Husted, arguing that voters should not be disenfranchised for choosing not to participate. The United States Supreme Court upheld the process, allowing Husted, who is now lieutenant governor, to remove another 276,200 registrations in January.

In a meeting Monday at the Beacon Journal, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Ohioans who regularly interact with government, whether to renew a driver's or fishing license, deserve a better process for maintaining the voter rolls. He called the 25-year-old practice of mailing postcards and waiting four years for a reply "an analog process in a digital era."

"I know that in 2019 we can do better," said LaRose, a Hudson Republican. "But my oath of office requires me to carry out this process as the law clearly states."

Looking to add transparency, LaRose announced in June that he would ask Ohio's 88 county election boards to send him the names and addresses of all voter registrations scheduled for removal on Sept. 6. The full list was shared three weeks ago with 20 voting rights and community advocacy groups, including the NAACP, the Urban League and the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

Many of the groups quickly asked LaRose to postpone the Sept. 6 purge after Mike Brickner with All Voting Is Local announced that 4,000 registrations actually belong to active voters who should have never been on the list.

The Columbus Dispatch questioned local election officials, who added that 120 voters in Franklin County were improperly removed in January.

LaRose said his office then found errors from counties that used voter information software originally supplied by Diebold and currently serviced by Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Nebraska. The Dispatch reported Sunday that the vendor issue incorrectly added 1,641 voters to the scheduled purge, including 219 in Wayne County where the software was used. LaRose's staff said the error incorrectly flagged 1,461 registrations.

LaRose said maintaining the statewide voter roll is a "messy" process challenged by "decentralized" and "siloed" gathering, verifying and reporting of data from 88 semi-autonomous county election boards. He's "not going to tell them which voting system vendors" they can and can't hire. And discovering the errors has strengthened, not weakened, the process, he said.

"Weeks ago, we put the list out there for scrutiny. We asked for this," LaRose said Monday. "We asked for advocacy groups and public reporters to dig through the data and help us improve the process."

"Anytime there are humans involved in running data through a database system and punching buttons there's always a possibility that errors could be made," said LaRose, who went on to say that the erroneous removal of an active voter next week "is highly, highly unlikely at this point."

While LaRose wraps up this supplemental process from 2015, another began in 2016 and ends next year. Because it's scheduled within 90 days of the presidential election, LaRose said federal law will delay that purge until after the November election.

In the meantime, he said he has no intention in 2019 to identify another batch of inactive voters and start another four-year clock of mailings and replies.

Nor will he do so in 2020, he said, as long as lawmakers advance efforts like Senate Bill 186 to cut down on duplicate registrations that clog up the voter rolls and require the regular data cleansing. Introduced Wednesday by Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) and Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville), SB186 would allow Ohioans who are U.S. citizens to update their address and renew their voter registrations while at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The bill would open the door for partnerships with other state agencies like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which manages wildlife and issues fishing and hunting licenses.

©2019 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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