Voter Purges Are A Reality, And What You Can Do

A new report by the Brennan Center shows that millions of registered voters were purged from state registries across the nation, leading to renewed accusations of voter suppression and discrimination.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act included numerous provisions to prevent voter discrimination in states that, shall we say, had a history of discriminating by race. States would be unable to quietly purge voters from registries without the federal government giving the okay beforehand. However, in 2013 the supreme court ruled in the landmark Shelby v. Holder case that states with a history of voter discrimination no longer required federal clearance to purge voter rolls. Chief Justice Robert’s majority opinion on Shelby reasoned that the provisions were based on “40 year old facts having no logical relationship to present day.”

The opinion essentially says, “Hey, segregation was a long time ago, we’re sure things have probably gotten better, right?” In what’s surely a complete coincidence, The Brennan Center found that over 16 million voters were removed from state voter rolls from 2014 to 2016, a 33 percent increase from previous years. Based on the data, it is believed that states were able to purge an additional 2 million voters due to Shelby.

The court’s opinion that we should no longer regulate states with a history of voter suppression remains naive at best, and malicious at worst. Why should we believe that anything has changed when Republican state officials have admitted that purges benefit them? A Louisiana state official was once caught saying that purges “could really keep the black vote down considerably.”

And to compound this disaster for democracy even further, this June the supreme court upheld Ohio’s process of purging “infrequent voters,” those who have not voted within two years. Dissenters believed this policy would marginalize communities with harsher registration laws, and punish citizens expressing their right not to vote, and now it is undeniable: there is a concerted effort in our government to suppress political action of minorities and dissenters.

What Can You Do?

First, you should find out if you’ve been purged. Organizations like Headcount will help you verify your registration. You should also tell your representatives to support simple measures to prevent suppression like universal voter registration, and removing “failure to vote” as a reason to purge voters. The war against American voters needs to end, or we have no basis in calling ourselves a democracy.