Voter List Accuracy

Voter List Accuracy

Katy Owens Hubler 2/11/2014

All states take steps to keep their voter registration rolls accurate and up-to-date. The goal of maintaining an accurate voter list is to prevent ineligible people from voting, prevent anyone from voting twice and, by reducing inaccuracies, speed up the voter check-in process at polling places. How states do this can vary, but most have processes in place for removing records of duplicate records, deceased voters, felons and people who have moved. These checks can be conducted with data from federal agencies, state agencies, or other states.

Below is a snapshot of some of the ways that states check the accuracy of their voter rolls. 

Federal Checks 

States use data from federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Post Office, to verify voter information at the registration stage and to ensure accuracy of the voter list. 

  • Social Security Administration
    • Virginia statute requires that on or before Oct. 1 of each year the State Board conducts a match of the Virginia registered voter lists with the list of deceased persons maintained by the Social Security Administration (Va. Code §24.2-404.3). 
    • Nevada requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify the accuracy of information in a voter registration application with the Social Security Administration (Nev. Rev. Stat. §293.675).
    • Washington checks the last four digits of the social security number of a newly registered voter against the Department of Licensing or the Social Security Administration’s records (Wash. Rev. Code §29A.08.107). 
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program 
    • Florida was the first to use the SAVE program to identify potential non-citizens on the voter rolls, but did so without authorizing legislation. 
    • Virginia enacted legislation from 2013 to require general registrars to remove non-U.S. citizens from the record of registered voters based on reports from the SAVE Program (Va. Code §24.2-404).  
  • The United States Post Office (USPS) and National Change of Address (NCOA) files 
    • Kansas calls for the chief state election official or county officer to check the registration records of voters against the National Change of Address files once each calendar year (K.S.A. §25-2354).
    • As part of its process for removing ineligible voters from the active registration list, West Virginia compares the records of all of its voters with NCOA files (W. Va. Code §3-2-25).

State Agency Checks 

Many states have programs through which the state election agency can cross-check the voter registration database with the information from other state agencies, including departments of vital statistics, the agencies that handles motor vehicle records, death records and felon records, and jury lists. 

  • Departments of vital statistics 
  1. West Virginia requires the statewide database to be coordinated monthly with other agency databases within the state, including the vital statistics database (W. Va. Code §3-2-2).
  2. Rhode Island requires the Secretary of State each month to receive a list of names of deceased people from the state’s office of vital statistics (R.I. General Laws § 17-10-1).
  3. Ohio passed legislation in 2013 that requires state agencies, including the department of health, bureau of motor vehicles, department of job and family services and the department of rehabilitation and corrections, to provide data to the secretary of state to maintain the statewide voter registration database (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §3503.15).
  • Agencies that handle motor vehicle records
    • In 2013, Texas passed House Bill 2512 which requires social security numbers collected on a driver’s license application to be disclosed to the secretary of state for the purpose of voter registration (Tex. Code Ann. §521.044)
    • In Florida the election supervisor receives information from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles when a registered voter’s legal residence may have changed. The supervisor must then change the registration records to reflect the new address and send the voter an address change notice (Fla. Stat. §98.065). 
  • Agencies that handle death records 

In addition to receiving a list of residents who died the previous month from the State Department of Health, Oklahoma also includes several other ways to notify the county election board that a voter has died. Anyone can provide the county board with a death certificate for the voter; the next of kin can submit a form that the voter has died along with proof of death; and the administrator of a nursing home, the administrator of a veterans center, and a funeral director can also present such a form to the county elections board to begin this process (Okla. Stat. § 4-120.3).

Kentucky sets a specific timeline for the process of removing a deceased voter from the registration list. Within five days, the State Board of Elections is required to remove from voter registration records the name of any person reported deceased by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services or “other reliable sources” (§ 116.113). 

  • Felons
    • Ohio and Virginia require the clerk of the court and the Central Criminal Records Exchange, respectively, to inform the elections board on a monthly basis of all persons who have been convicted of a crime that would disenfranchise them (§Ohio Rev. Code Ann. 3503.18 and Va. Code §24.2-409). 

    • Utah leaves it up to the Lieutenant Governor, the head elections official in the state, to determine how often the Department of Corrections should provide information on registered voters who are convicted of a felony, currently incarcerated or released from incarceration (Utah Code Ann. §20A-2-109). 
  • Jury lists
    • In 2013 Kansas passed House Bill 2164 requiring the jury commissioner to submit information regarding citizenship received from a prospective juror to the Secretary of State to maintain voter registrations (Kan Stat. Ann §43-1).
    • In Texas, if the secretary of state determines that a voter on the registration list has been excused or disqualified from jury service because the voter is not a citizen, the secretary shall send notice to the voter registrar of the county to remove the voter from the list (Texas Code §18.068).

Interstate Cross-Checks

States cooperate in a variety of ways to ensure the accuracy of the voter registration rolls and to prevent duplicate voter records. If a new voter in a state fills out a voter registration form and indicates that he was a registered voter in another state previously, jurisdictions will typically inform the other state that the voter has moved.

In recent years there has also been an increased focus on interstate database comparisons through projects such as the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) and the Interstate Voter Cross-Check Program. These systems allow participating states to directly compare their data to identify potential duplicate registrations or inaccuracies.

Some states have found that their current statutes allow them to participate in an interstate cross-check program without new legislation. Other states have needed to pass authorizing legislation to participate in the program. Typically this legislation provides the chief elections officer authority to share voter registration data and other vital data with other states for voter registration purposes. These bills commonly include language requiring the chief elections officer to do whatever is necessary to protect private data from disclosure. Here are some examples: 

  • In 2013 Virginia permitted the state elections board to cooperate with other states and jurisdictions to develop systems to compare voters, voter history and voter registration lists (Va. Code §24.2-404).

  • Nevada allows for any information which the Secretary of State deems necessary to maintain the statewide voter registration list to be shared with other states (Nev. Rev. Stat. §293.675). 

  • Connecticut allows the secretary to cross reference the information in the voter registration system with data or information contained in any state agency's database, a database administered by the federal government, or any voter registration database of another state (Conn. Gen. Stat. §9-19k).

  • Ohio allows the secretary of state to enter into agreements to share information or data with other states or groups of states in order to maintain the statewide voter registration database (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §3503.15). 

Process for Removing Voters

The process of “purging” or removing voters from the voter rolls is important for ensuring that voter rolls are accurate, up-to-date and do not contain duplicate records. In order to maintain the accuracy of the voter list, states have processes in place to remove voters because of a variety of reasons: death, felony conviction, mental incapacitation, change of address, or duplicate records. The systems that check for duplicate records or ineligible voters usually do not automatically remove the voters. When a state receives information that an individual on the voter list is no longer eligible from one of the checks listed above, most states (though not all) require that the election jurisdiction first contacts the individual. Typically the state will send out a card to the voter, wait for a given period of time and if there is no response the voter will be removed, cancelled or moved to an inactive list. 

The process for purging voters varies state to state.

  • Virginia, for example, keeps a permanent, separate list of those who were removed due to death or a felony conviction and a list of all removed voters, along with the reason for their removal, for four years (Va. Code §24.2-404).
  • When a registrar in Louisiana receives word that a voter is ineligible or has moved, the voter is first moved to the inactive list while the registrar confirms the voter’s status. If a voter is on the inactive list for two general election cycles, his voter record is cancelled (La. Acts §18.193). 

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