Real Consequences to Voter Purges

ACORN Voting Voting Rights

Marble Falls   Since the fall of 2019, when ACORN, Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center, and the Ohio Voter Project organized the Voter Purge Project, we have painstakingly processed the voter lists in numerous states around the country as a bulwark against voter suppression.  In the beginning, we were only handling a dozen or so states going into the 2020 national election, but now we are handling more than forty-five states and closing in on all fifty.  VPP has found some irregularities from time to time and in that capacity acts as a safeguard on states because our process involves comparing pure voter lists on a frequent basis, monthly where lists are easily accessible and affordable, so that we can monitor irregularities that are either inadvertent or deliberate.  We are the accountability police for voter lists.  During several cycles, we have run a phone matching and texting program to alert purged voters that there may have been errors and moving them to re-register.  Our mission is to serve as a hedge against any attempts at voter suppression.  We rank states with data down to the county or parish level.  This is something we know a lot about.

Mostly, our work is highlighted when federal elections are on the calendar.  Interestingly, voter purges have become a front-page issue in an unusual situation in New Orleans now.  A citizen recall effort has been circulating petitions to oust the current mayor, LaToya Cantrell, who is now in the second year of her second term.  Under Louisiana law for a petition to be successful, organizers have to garner valid signatures from 20% of the parish’s active registered voters as of the date of the petition’s initiation, which in this case was August 26th.  According to the Secretary of State’s office, that would have been 49,976 names.

So, what does this have to do with voter purges?  Well, the recallers have filed suit against the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters, claiming that she didn’t do the purges she should have done over the last seventeen years.  Employing an analysis from a very reputable local firm, Gulf Coast Resources, they claim the Orleans Parish list “includes nearly 33,000 ineligible names, including 21,000 people who have moved out of state, 9000 who have moved out of the parish and 500 people who have died.”  Our most recent report would have had the number at over 52,000 and the Orleans purge rate at 1.85%, which is in the range of what would be normal, year to year, in comparison to the rest of the state.  People who die need to be removed.  People who are inactive are supposed to receive a postcard or some other indication to determine if they have changed addresses, and if they do not respond after not having voted for two cycles, they would subject to removal, based on the most recent Supreme Court decision.  Certainly this is happening at some consistent level, since I have gotten such notices at the passing of my parents.

The mission of the Voter Purge Project is to make sure no one is purged that should still be on the list.  The objective of the recall petitioners is to see that more voters are purged in order to lower the threshold they need to make the petition valid.  If all the voters they allege should be purged, that would lower their number by 6534 signatures.  Without knowing more about the methodology used by Gulf Coast Resources, it’s impossible to say with any surety whether their numbers are correct.  Our processing compares pure lists to pure lists.  Many others use enhanced lists, which depend on other databases rather than using just the lists to the list’s method, which can cloud the numbers in the way that apples are not oranges.

VPP constantly worries that in the haphazard way that voter lists are managed there can be too many slips, inadvertent or deliberate, between the cup and the lip, as local governmental units move the numbers to the Secretary of State. Certainly, when we found the 40,000-voter error in Ohio, part of the problem was that the Secretary of State had dropped 25,000 voters coming from two very blue counties in that state where the records indicated these voters were still active.  The response in Ohio was simply, “whoops, sorry, we put them back on.”  No penalty, in short, even though there was a clear foul.  In any case, secretaries of state depend on local election staff for the numbers, and they are where the buck has to stop.

Without being able to comment on the Gulf Coast work which may be perfectly sound, it is clear legally that the official voter list is held in the custody of the Secretary of State, and, right or wrong, the number they determined in August would seem to be the valid number for the petition.  If there is a foul in Louisiana, logically, a suit, if it had any standing, would be filed against that office, rather than the parish office, even if the allegation of error was at the parish level, since it is the state that is accountable for the final certification.  Not being a lawyer, I better not practice without a license again.

Nonetheless, as VPP has pointed out repeatedly and done so in conversations with secretaries of state all over the country, the fact that there are not clearer standards and legal guidelines in managing the voter lists is a recipe for confusion and chaos, and needs to be corrected in a nonpartisan way to protect voters.  The current partisan attacks on voting act to discredit confidence in the system and chill this fundamental democratic right of citizen participation.  Additionally, as ACORN found in numerous state and local initiative procedures, sometimes to our peril, is that it is never enough to just hit the number, the goal has to be to go 25 to 50% higher to have a margin that is unassailable.  Politics is not a fair fight but a blood sport, and if petitioners are saying they are only 1000 signatures or fewer short of the minimum goal, our history would say that’s too close, and whether the purges are right or wrong, and the lawyers are good or bad, it’s unlikely in our experience that they could prevail.