Voter registration numbers are down from the same point last year, but that probably isn’t the result of a voting purge, local officials say.
The purging of voting rolls is a contentious issue, one headed to the Supreme Court on Nov. 8. In Ohio, if a voter misses a federal election cycle, their local Board of Elections will send them a “confirmation card,” a letter asking voters to confirm their address. If they miss another federal election, they are removed from the rolls.
Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said she’s “upset” by the perception that officials are removing people from voting roles without cause, because voters have many opportunities to ensure their registration is up to date.
“It is the responsibility of the voter to keep up with their registration,” Quivey said. “It’s just like your driver’s license. You have to keep that up, and voters have to take responsibility for their voting.”
Athens County sends its confirmation cards with postage-paid return envelopes, making it easier for voters to respond. Quivey said the cost for those envelopes are “well worth it” if people actually use them to update their registrations, but they don’t always get used.
“People will say, ‘oh, you purged me.’ You were notified, and we didn’t get your’s back,” Quivey said. “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.”
In Athens County, there are 45,165 registered voters this year. That number is down from 45,418 people who were registered to vote in the 2016 presidential election, but it’s still up from the 38,319 people in Athens County registered to vote in the similar local election in 2015.
Quivey credited the drop primarily to people either canceling their registration or being “merged” with another county’s rolls.
The Board of Elections for all 88 counties in Ohio are connected through a single portal from the Ohio Secretary of State, Quivey said. When a voter registers in one county and then registers in a different county, their original registration gets merged with their new one and places them in the new county.
That affects many students, Quivey said, who may register at their address in their home county and then register again using their school address in Athens County. While no numbers were specifically available on the number of voters merged, the process results in the number of registered voters “constantly changing,” Quivey said.
To Pete Couladis, chair of the Athens County Republican Party, the fall in the number of registered voters is not a big problem.
“This isn’t unusual,” Couladis said. “They’re just trying to keep the rolls current, which is important. It lessens the chance of someone coming and saying, ‘I’m John Smith, and I’m going to vote in this precinct’ while John Smith left and he graduated three years ago.”
Ohio has one of the stricter voter purging laws, arguing that a voter failing to acknowledge his or her confirmation card most likely indicates that person has moved. For Couladis, though, it just makes sense.
“I don’t think it’s intense,” Couladis said. “It makes sense to make sure people who are voting are legally qualified to vote.”
Some groups, however, believe the issue goes beyond the security of elections. The Ohio University College Democrats, which works to register college students to vote, says it “(does) not support voter purging in any capacity, particularly when doing so disenfranchises specific groups of voters such as people of color or members of a single political party.”
Ashley Fishwick, president of OUCD and a senior studying English pre-law and political science, said registering college students to vote can be hard because students move every year.
“Removing people — it’s essentially undemocratic,” Fishwick said. “It’s so hard to register voters, and then they go and just scrap voters from the rolls. It’s important people remember that once you’re registered, you have to make sure you follow through and vote.”