Balancing Voter Purge Efforts with Voter Outreach

By Erin Ferns Lee November 8, 2013

“Voter rolls are messy, and someone has to clean them up,” wrote Reid Wilson at Washington Posts‘ blog, GovBeat. It’s true, but as some states proved before this week’s elections, voter list maintenance is certainly cause for concern. That is, unless it is balanced with voter outreach.

Reid wrote about “the answer” to cleaning voter rolls of people who are no longer eligible due to death, moving, or marriage: The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC).

“Developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and IBM, ERIC uses several databases to compare voters across state lines. The system compares voter list data with Department of Motor Vehicle records, Social Security Administration records, the Postal Service’s national change of address registry and other databases to match voters across state lines; if the system concludes with a high degree of confidence that a John Doe on one state’s voter roll is the same John Doe in another state, the record is flagged.”

Currently, only seven states participate in ERIC. Twenty-eight other states already joined another voter data matching program, the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is run by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. That system relies only on matching names and birth dates.

“Voting-rights advocates say that isn’t enough to guarantee legitimate voters won’t be canceled inadvertently,” Wilson wrote. “But those advocates like the ERIC system — provided the states use the information they receive in a responsible manner.”

“ERIC gives us this great tool to target voter registration education, so we can reach out to people who aren’t registered,” said Shane Hamlin, the chairman of the ERIC board. “The more targeted the outreach is, the more cost-effective it is.”

It’s not sharing information in and of itself that is of concern; it’s what states do with it that counts. Voter list maintenance is a vital part of election administration, and list-sharing among states is useful, as long as election officials follow federal law and notify voters before purging those who apparently match another state’s record. It’s even better if the system balances the cancellation of voters with the invitation of new ones to enter the franchise, as ERIC’s system exemplifies.

Photo by Amy Dobrowolsky via Creative Commons