- 576,534 voter registrations were purged from North Carolina voter rolls.
- North Carolina’s biennial cleaning of voter rolls is mandated by federal law.
If you happen to casually check out this week’s voter registration changes at Civitas’ Carolina Elections web page, you will see an eye-popping number; the number of people registered to vote in North Carolina dropped by 576,534, from 7,137,713 on December 29 to 6,561,179 on January 5 (the State Board of Elections updates it voter registration data on Saturdays).
Voter registrations become outdated for several reasons, including voters dying or moving. Cleaning the voter rolls is a normal activity for local election boards, and is mandated by the Help America Vote Act (2002).
There are several steps that must happen before a voter registration is purged:
Voter registration records are not “purged” simply due to non-voting. Voters are removed from the voter rolls due to a biennial list maintenance process that is mandated by federal and state law. If a county board of elections has not had any contact with a voter for a period of two federal election cycles, then the voter will be sent a forwardable address confirmation mailing. The voter will be required to return the confirmation mailing within 30 days of the mailing. If the confirmation mailing is not returned by the voter within that time, or the mailing is returned by the postal system as undeliverable, then the voter’s record will be marked inactive in the voter registration database. Inactive voters are still registered voters. If an inactive voter presents to vote, the person will be asked to update his or her address with the board of elections. In the event that an inactive voter remains in this status for another two federal election cycles (meaning the county board still has no contact with the voter), then the voter will be removed as a voter in the county.
So, a voter must fail to vote in two federal election cycles (a federal election cycle includes all elections and primaries in a two-year period) and fail to return an address confirmation card before being put on the inactive list. The inactive voter must then fail to vote in an additional two federal election cycles before his or her name is removed from the voter rolls. That means those who were recently removed from voter rolls have not voted since 2010.
What makes the most recent purge seem so dramatic is that it was almost all done in one week during the holidays, a time when there would be few new people registering to vote. Previous purges took place over several weeks. Every county except Yancy saw a decrease in registration numbers from December 29 to January 5. Previous purges took place over several weeks. As with prior purges, it will take some time for voter registration to reach its pre-purge level; the number of registered voters in the state did not fully recover from the early 2017 voter roll purges until late June of 2018.
Despite the occasional screaming headline about purges, such maintenance to voter rolls affects almost no actual voters and a portion of those purged are likely people who were caught up in voter registration drives but who never actually bothered to vote.
The voter registration changes tool (see first link above) goes back to January of 2008 and is a great way to explore how voter registration in North Carolina has shifted over the past decade.
*NOTE: An earlier version of this post stated that voter registrations were removed after the registered person missed four federal elections. In fact, the registrations are removed after missing four federal election cycles, which also includes primaries local elections during an eight-year period.