How to find out if your voter registration was removed in Ohio’s latest mass purge
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
The latest mass purge of Ohio voter registration data is not without controversy and has left Democrats calling for a third-party audit.
There are now about 125,000 fewer registered voters in the state after Secretary of State Frank LaRose removed names from the active voter rolls.
If an Ohioan has moved or hasn’t participated in elections in the past six years, the state may have removed the individual’s ability to vote. Due to consistent troubles of nearly removing tens of thousands of legitimate voters from the record, Democrats and voting rights advocates don’t trust the process.
“It’s very antiquated and archaic and really jeopardizes people’s most fundamental right,” said state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland).
This is an unnecessary form of voter disenfranchisement, Sweeney said. Some Republicans, on the other hand, say that characterization is overdramatic.
According to an OCJ/WEWS analysis, more than 45,000 voters in Northeast Ohio were purged from the state’s voter roles on Feb. 21.
Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) had 12,709 voters removed, the largest amount in the state. This accounts for more than 10% of the state’s purge, which is about the same breakdown as the county’s population percentage in the state overall.
Franklin (Columbus) followed after with 10,982. Next was Montgomery (Dayton) with 7,480; Summit (Akron) with 5,339; and Hamilton (Cincinnati) with 5,310.
The full list of canceled registrations can be viewed at the Registration Readiness website which is available here.
Any person whose voter registration has been purged can immediately reinstate their ability to vote by reregistering on the Secretary’s registration website here or by visiting their county board of elections.
If you believe you or a loved one has been wrongfully removed from the voter list, please email WEWS Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau at [email protected].
Federal and state law
There is a reason for the purge, Case Western Reserve University elections law professor Antiba Ellis explained.
“States have a large degree of discretion in terms of how they run elections and how they run voter registration and maintaining voter lists in particular,” Ellis said.
After six years of inactivity and if the voter in question doesn’t respond to the multiple mailings that go to their home, they are allowed to be removed from the active voter list.
This practice was challenged in court, with the ACLU of Ohio and others suing that the list-maintenance process violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act of 2002. NVRA forbids voter removal if the sole reason is for failure to vote.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in a 5-4 decision that although Ohio does purge infrequent voters from the registration rolls, its mailing process is sufficient enough grounds to get rid of the individual.
“Federal law tends to require that states make — what basically is a good faith effort in terms of maintaining accurate lists,” the professor added. “If your database becomes too big, it becomes difficult to manage.”
Sweeney argued that isn’t what is happening.
LaRose originally planned to remove about 140,000 names, but around 16,000 voters were mislabeled. And this isn’t the first time.
Back in 2019, the secretary spoke to OCJ/WEWS about the challenges that came from the last voter sweep.
“Over 10,000 voters have said ‘no I still want to be a registered voter in Ohio’ and so they’ve taken action, they’ve gone on our website or filled out the form and sent it in,” LaRose said at the time.
That list ended up gaining 30,000 additional incorrectly labeled voters, according to a New York Times report.
A review of the work of one vendor found that more than 1,400 names were incorrectly added to the list sparking calls from the League of Women Voters and other groups to delay the 2019 removal. Numerous activist groups have reached out to OCJ/WEWS to assert initial concerns with this list, arguing about inaccurate names.
“It should not be [voters’] job to not be removed,” Sweeney argued. “It’s our job not to arbitrarily remove people who’ve done the work of registering themselves in the state.”
The state isn’t trying to remove any legitimate voter, LaRose has said, but undergoing this process keeps Ohio elections safe.
The ‘Big Lie’
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Ohio or in the country.
As of October 2022, LaRose sent 75 allegations of fraud during the 2020 election to law enforcement, which amounts to just .001% of all Ohio ballots alleged to be fraudulent. However, when OCJ/WEWS asked his team how many of these claims have been substantiated, they said they did not know.
RELATED: Voter fraud isn’t nearly as prevalent as some lawmakers make it out to be
In LaRose’s press release about the purge, a header states ‘WHAT IS THE RISK TO ELECTION INTEGRITY IF THIS PROCESS ISN’T CARRIED OUT?’
He answered the question, stating, “if abandoned registrations aren’t removed from the voter rolls, it creates a serious risk to election security. The more unwieldy a registration database becomes, the more difficult it is for each county board of elections to maintain election integrity and ensure voter fraud cannot take place.”
“Policymakers who argue that it’s important to purge voter lists usually rely on the idea that by having inaccurate lists, there is a risk of fraud,” Ellis explained. “I tend to be a skeptic of fraud risk by itself as a justification for overzealous purging of voter rolls.”
In previous voter roll purges in the state and across the nation, voters in metro areas have faced the greatest impact, which Ellis said tends to fall on communities of color, the elderly, young adults, and immigrants.
The combination of the Supreme Court siding with GOP lawmakers, the growing myth that the 2020 election was stolen and the aggressive approach of removing voters has a grave danger of disenfranchising voters simply because of a technical error, the professor added.
Nothing is ever a coincidence in Ohio
Ohio just passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. There is an effort to make it more difficult to amend the constitution, with the lawmaker in charge of the proposal admitting it was about preventing an abortion ballot initiative. Early voting has been cut down.
On Feb. 24, Sweeney and state Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) sent a letter to LaRose urging him to engage a third-party firm to audit the purge.
“It has to be intentional because we see that there is no voter fraud and the outcome is less people are voting,” Sweeney said. “We have a purge that we are undergoing right now that is optional.”
Rob Nichols, spokesperson for LaRose, argued against this assertion.
“If [Rep. Sweeney] wants to argue that our voter rolls shouldn’t be maintained, then she can make that argument,” Nichols said. “But, you know, we follow the law.”
This isn’t a huge deal, GOP policymakers have said, considering the list of names was released months ago and it is easy to re-register.
“We’ve had the abandoned registration list on our website for approximately a year,” Nichols added. “We’re not sure why these representatives don’t trust our bipartisan County Board of Elections and their judgment and competency — they are the ones who provide us with this data.”
LaRose isn’t responsible for the 16,000 fewer names from one list to the next, he said.
“There was a gap in time where we got one list from the boards and then they figured out, ‘okay, well, these people moved, these people died, these people re-engaged,’ and so that’s the only reason for the delta between the two numbers,” he added.
Following this report being published, Nichols reached out to add that the 16,000 being removed from the list is the system working, he said. These individuals weren’t mislabeled but were going to expire anyway, and they were either sought out or took the opportunity to reregister to save their registration, the spokesperson added.
OCJ/WEWS has reached out to county boards of elections to see if this is accurate and also asked the secretary’s team for definite proof that none of the 16,000 had been previously mislabeled.
State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) has proposed numerous voter security-type bills. Her team provided a statement in defense of the list management system:
“Maintaining accurate voter rolls is imperative for our ability to run fair elections and eliminate voter fraud. All Ohioans, with few exceptions, remain registered to vote unless they voluntarily remove themselves, move to another state, die, or fail to engage in election-related activity for six years. Fortunately, the process for Ohio citizens to register to vote is simple, so inactive voters who decide to participate in future elections can easily register in a variety of ways.”
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, Sweeney said. Many rural voters could also be impacted, as they have been in previous elections.
“That’s why I want a third-party audit to make sure that these are people who are not eligible to vote,” Sweeney said. “And I would bet that there are still eligible voters on this list.”
Sweeney said she hasn’t received a response from the secretary’s team about her letter. Nichols said he wasn’t aware of it.
Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.
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