A voter is seen entering the Grady County Election Board building in Chickasha on Nov. 2, 2018, the second day of early voting. Credit: Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

State election officials removed nearly 90,000 inactive voters from Oklahoma’s voter rolls earlier this month during its biennial purging of the list.

The 88,276 deleted names of registered voters include those who haven’t voted in several election cycles and didn’t respond to an address confirmation mailing from the state.

Oklahoma is one of just seven states in which failing to vote – along with not replying to the address confirmation and not updating voter registration information – triggers removal from the rolls.

Oklahomans are sent the address confirmations for several other reasons as well, such as surrendering a driver’s license in another state. If they don’t reply, they are put on “inactive status” and are at risk of being deleted if they don’t have any voting activity for two election cycles.

The state allows these voters to be removed if they haven’t voted for what is essentially an eight-year period, meaning that the voters who were purged this month hadn’t cast a ballot since before the 2012 general election.

The so-called “use-it-or-lose-it” voting laws have been controversial across the country as they faced court challenges and a recent push by congressional Democrats to ban the practice.

Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said the process is largely automated and is free of partisan influence. It is done to protect the state’s elections from abuse or inaccuracies, he said.

“Maintaining clean and updated voter rolls isn’t just required by law,” Ziriax said. “It also protects our democracy by making it far more difficult for someone to use outdated voter lists to attempt to commit fraud or disrupt our elections.”

This Year’s Purge

The Election Board routinely updates the voter rolls when it receives information that a voter has moved, died, been convicted of a felony or has been certified as mentally incapacitated.

But in the spring of every odd-numbered year, a 25-year-old law requires election officials to remove inactive and duplicate voter registrations.

That work, performed on April 15, removed 88,276 inactive voters and 3,030 duplicates this year.

The totals were lower than in past years, including in 2017 when 167,071 inactive voters were removed and 2015 when 108,347 were removed.

Election Board spokeswoman Misha Mohr said the number of voters on inactive status – those who are still allowed to vote but are in danger of being removed if they don’t vote in the next two election cycles – and the number who are actually deleted varies from year to year.

For example, 368,283 were on inactive status as of the end of 2014. But only 108,347, or nearly 30 percent, were subject to deletion in the 2015 spring voter maintenance.

By comparison, 245,418 were on inactive status at the end of 2018. And 88,276, or 36 percent of those on inactive status, were removed during this year’s purge.

“If you compare the ‘inactive’ deletions in 2015 (following the 2014 gubernatorial election) with the 2019 deletions, a higher percentage of ‘inactive’ voters were deleted in 2019 than 2015,” she said.

What Other States Do

Although state election board officials defend the state’s use-it-or-lose-it voting laws, other groups have called on states to abandon them.

This includes the Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that lobbies for civil rights laws. Leigh Chapman, voting rights program director for the group, said states should be trying to make voting easier, not harder.

She said other states without a use-it-or-lose-it voting law have been shown to accurately maintain their voting lists without needing such a policy.

Lawyers who unsuccessfully tried to overturn a similar but more stringent law in Ohio during a U.S. Supreme Court case last year also made the same case when arguing before the justices.

“Many other methods for voter-list maintenance remain at (Ohio’s) disposal,however, such as the methods used by at least 38 other states around the country whose practices in no way resemble Ohio’s,” the lawyers argued in a brief.

These include statewide mailings to all registered voters,and membership in the Electronic Registration Information, an interstate data-sharing system that aggregates data from voter-registration lists, motor-vehicle departments and other sources to identify individuals who have likely died or moved outside their jurisdiction of registration.

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