Report: Protecting Consumers

Vanishing Voters

Why Registered Voters Drop Off The Rolls
Released by: Arizona PIRG Education Fund

Executive Summary

In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Its primary purpose was to open up the voter registration process and enhance democratic participation. The law had several aims, but among them was protecting Americans from being carelessly or purposefully excluded from voting by being improperly dropped from voting rolls.

Specifically, the NVRA established two clear and simple directives regarding the maintenance of voter rolls:

1. Election administrators may systematically remove ineligible voters from voter rolls at any time except within 90 days of a federal election.

2. Election administrators must notify voters that they will be dropped from the rolls if the administrators believe that the voters have moved to another precinct. Fifteen years after enactment of the NVRA, however, many states continue to appear unaware of the federal rules regarding voter roll purges. A survey of state laws and election officials shows that, on the eve of the 2008 general election, voters across the country do not appear to enjoy the important voter protection provisions afforded by the NVRA.

Many states seem unaware of the federal rules against systematic voter list maintenance within 90 days of a federal election as evidenced by the following three findings:

1. Twenty states do not have laws, regulations or systems in place to properly implement the NVRA's 90-day ban on voter list maintenance. There is no apparent pattern to the states that lack these protections, and they cross both political and geographic boundaries.

2. Nine states claim that there is no deadline beyond which voters cannot be systematically dropped from the rolls, a direct contradiction of the terms of the NVRA.

3. Five states have their own deadlines written into state law -- all of which are less than the federally mandated 90 days.

In addition, we found that 12 states do not have the proper systems in place for notifying voters who have been removed from the rolls if they are believed to have moved out of the precinct.

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