Kansas Secretary of State Issues New Instructions to Election Officials to Prevent Voters Being Wrongfully Removed from RollsRelease Date: February 17, 2010, 12:00 am
Groups That Sought Voter Protections Applaud Change
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In response to concerns expressed by national voting rights groups Project Vote and the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), the Kansas Secretary of State has issued new instructions to county election officials to ensure that eligible voters are not wrongfully removed from the rolls under an ongoing program to update voter registration databases based on interstate matching.
Kansas has partnered with 11 other states – Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota – to run an annual comparison of statewide voter databases to see if voters have moved and re-registered in another state. The new instructions being hailed by voting rights groups clarify how local Kansas election officials should handle potential voter matches sent to them by the Secretary of State based on these interstate crosschecks.
In a December 2007 letter to the Kansas Secretary, Project Vote and FELN raised concerns about this practice, given the significant risk that voters who show up as “matches” – because they share first and last names and even birth dates – are not necessarily the same person. Accordingly, no one should be removed from the voting rolls simply because their name appears as a “match” in an interstate crosscheck of databases. Removal is barred under 1993’s National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
“The NVRA lays out very clear guidelines for how and when a voter may be removed from the rolls,” explains Teresa James of Project Vote. “And it does not permit purging voters based on a match alone.” Section 8 of the NVRA prohibits cancellation of a voter’s registration unless the voter has cancelled a prior registration by identifying the prior address on a new registration application, or the election authority sends a confirmation notice to the voter and either (a) the voter confirms the change of address in writing or (b) the voter fails to respond and then fails to vote in the two ensuing federal elections.
“We recognize the state’s interest in maintaining current, accurate lists of voters,” says Brian J. Siebel, Legal Director of Fair Elections Legal Network. “However, removing voters without the NVRA’s required notification procedure is improper and needs to be prevented. Cleaning up voter rolls is no excuse for mistakenly disenfranchising eligible voters.”
As an example of the dangers of an improperly run interstate matching cleanup program, the groups point to a 2006 case in Kentucky, when officials purged more than 8,000 voters after comparing state databases with Tennessee and South Carolina. Nearly 200 of the purged voters showed up on Election Day to vote and proved their eligibility. A judge ruled that the state had conducted an illegal purge, and ordered all 8,000 voters restored to the voter lists.
While most states properly follow the NVRA requirements, Project Vote and FELN remain concerned that other states may be purging voters in violation of the federal law. The groups sent a letter last week to the Secretary of State of Arizona, seeking a meeting to clarify whether election officials are following NVRA procedures with the interstate “matches” they are receiving from Kansas and other states, and to cease improper purges if they are occurring.
“No one should show up at the polls to find out they’ve been improperly removed from the rolls,” says James.
“We commend the state of Kansas for taking steps to ensure this does not happen, and we hope other states will follow its example,” added Siebel.