“Voter Purge” Claims Don’t Pan Out, But Check Anyway

Don’t worry, you get to.

In the last 48 hours there’s been a considerable amount of concern raised by a report from freelance investigative journalist Greg Palast, who has spent many years gumshoeing election processes throughout the 50 states–sometimes finding significant examples of vote suppression on the part of Republican Secretaries of State, Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 being two prominent presidential-election examples of Palast’s work.

This time, however, as 9NEWS reported last night in detail, Palast got a little over his proverbial skis–and let a few misunderstandings about Colorado’s highly accessible election system, in which voters can take part several different ways including Election Day registration, lead to an unnecessary alarmist conclusion:

Greg Palast, an independent journalist who has written for Rolling Stone and other publications, wrote on his website Friday that Colorado is one of several states purging voters from its rolls. Per his report, more than 769,000 registrations were wiped from state records. He made similar claims against other states, like Georgia and Illinois, as well.

Voter registrations in Colorado may be canceled for several reasons including an out-of-state move, a felony conviction or death. Your voter registration could also be canceled if you chose not to vote in recent elections and didn’t respond to inquiries from your county clerk after…[o]ther votes are considered inactive but have not have their registrations canceled.

“What that means is that we have sent them a ballot or mail in the past and that mail has bounced. So, in all likelihood, those voters no longer live here in Colorado. But if they do, they still haven’t been purged, they’re just inactive, and they can reactivate by going to the polls and voting or getting online and changing their voter registration,” Staiert said.

The key thing to understand here is that unlike most other states, in Colorado being “inactivated” for the purposes of being mailed a ballot is in no way a final barrier to voting in any election. Colorado is subscribed to the National Change of Address database (NCOALink), which securely accesses USPS change of address data to keep voting records up to date. In addition, voters for whom election mail is returned are correctly inactivated so that mail ballots aren’t just going out willy-nilly. The large number of registrations affected simply reflects better tracking of these routine changes, not any conspiracy to suppress the vote.

And the bottom line is Colorado’s model election system, which features some of the highest turnouts of any American election since the passage of mail ballots and same-day registration in 2013, wouldn’t work to suppress the vote anyway–since any voter can update their status with one click to the Secretary of State’s website and a few updates to their information. If they do that before October 29, they’ll still get a mail ballot. If a voter misses that deadline, they can fix their registration or even register and vote all the way up to Election Day. To compare our system to so many other states where the rules are indeed set up to purge voters with convoluted recourse or none at all simply reflects a lack of understanding. And if you don’t want to take Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ word for that, which we understand given some of his wacky past statements, here’s his Democratic opponent Jena Griswold:

Williams’ Democratic challenger Jena Griswold issued a statement Monday saying she does not find the claims to be factual.

“The reports on voter purges in Colorado are not true. We need more facts, and less scare tactics in our politics,” she said. [Pols emphasis]

That is the best advice we can give anyone. In this case, we do think the misunderstanding was well-intentioned–and if anything should result in more voters taking the literal thirty seconds required to verify their voter record is up to date before it ever becomes an impediment to their casting a ballot. Even after the mail ballot deadline, no eligible voter in Colorado is truly out of options until the polls close on Election Night.

That’s why Colorado’s voter participation leads the nation–and will again in 2018.


4 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. VoyageurVoyageur says:

    My son moved to Boston 12 years ago.  I still get a ballot for him at every election.   I guess I can use it to cast an extra vote against 112.😈

  2. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    600,370 Colorado voter registrations were deactivated. That's not rumor – it's from the horses' mouth, no disrespect intended to Lyn Bartels, spox for the Sec State.

     Marianne Goodland in the Durango Herald quotes Bartels:

    “We do not purge voters,” Bartels said. “What we have is a number of inactive voters. Those are voters who will not receive a mail ballot because their county clerk mailed them something and it came back as undeliverable. Ballots don’t forward.”

    So here’s the problem with that: This is the first and only public notice about  600,000+ “deactivated” voters. Why could they not have been left as active but noted as with undeliverable ballots? Is this not the same tactic that SOS Williams’ predecessor, Scott Gessler used, to try to whittle down Democratic votes in 2011?

    What, exactly, is the difference between "deactivation" and "purging" in practice? Either way, the voter gets no ballot. In both cases, the voter gets zero communication from our beloved Secretary of State, so has no way to know that they may cure their registration and be re-enfranchised.

    Most of them may indeed have moved.  But not all of them moved out of state. Some of them may have committed felonies. An equal number may have done their time or completed their sentence, and now be eligible to vote. Since the Sec State has precipitously deactivated their registrations, it is the responsibility of the Sec State to notify the voters.

    I personally checked my town's 200 "deactivated registered" voters, and because it is a small town, found at least two who did move, but still live in the area. Surprise! They're not getting any ballots in the mail. Double surprise!! At least one of them confirmed that she got no notice from the Sec State that she had been "deactivated".  Third time's a charm – she's a solid Democratic voter….

    The happy ending is that, of course, my friend will check her status on govotecolorado and update her registration before October 29, so that she may still receive a mail ballot in time for the Nov 6 election.

    If Colorado’s voter deactivation is merely bureaucratic obstruction and not partisan voter suppression, as Bartels claims, why were voters of returned ballots not notified with a piece of forwardable mail? Why wait until Palast publishes his "purge" piece on his website to suddenly decide to let Colorado voters know why that ballot hasn’t arrived?

    There are problems with Palast’s site: It does contain inaccuracies, and it’s damned hard to use. Typing in the search fields  is invisible. One has to retype, refresh, or delete to get results. Nevertheless, I found entries for  6344 Smiths, 2,996 Martinez, 32 Hassans, and several other common names. I have to wonder if Wayne Williams office, under threat of Palast's lawsuit, intentionally fed him a screwed-up database.

    If nothing else, Palast has done a service by forcing Williams’ office to acknowledge the 600,000 deactivated voters.

    You deleted my diary, Pols – we'll see if you let my comment stand, when I have a real difference of interpretation of the benign intent of our Sec State in regard to deactivating voter registrations.

  3. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Williams is doing a shitty job of getting ballots out. Wonder why?

    60,000 ballots  missing for a week in Adams County.

    900 lost ballots replaced in Weld County.

    My facebook feed is full of young millenials wondering where their ballots are. Their registrations online say that they're active.

    Puerto Rican refugee citizens that voted in Puerto Rico are now eligible to vote in the US. They're not automatically getting information in Spanish to guide them in voting. That's hundreds of thousands of citizens in Colorado.

    But no, everything's just fiiinnnne… Because  Williams' GOP flak Lyn Bartels says so. And Pols backs her up. It's a sad day for democracy.


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