Citizens who haven’t participated in elections for eight years are at risk of losing their registration.
Beginning in April, the Oklahoma State Election Board is set to continue its process of biennial purging of inactive voter registration. Although the legality of this procedure is still being challenged in many other states, proponents argue that Oklahoma’s method is entirely reasonable.
While Oklahoma has been practicing this method of purging for over two decades, opponents argue that the revoking of voter registration is downright unconstitutional. Cases involving this affair cropped up prominently in the 2018 midterm elections, most notably in Georgia and Ohio; the Georgia governor’s race faced specific scrutiny following widespread purging in voter registration in the weeks leading up to the election. Nationally, cases such as this have been making their way through the judicial system. However, according to supporters, Oklahoma’s method is fair and balanced.
The procedure for removing inactive voters begins in the spring following a general election. This process for removal is relatively long, taking around two full election cycles, or eight years, to be completed. Voter rolls are constantly updated as citizens change addresses, die or otherwise alter their voter status; the result of this is a web of detailed information that must be sorted through to maintain accuracy in registrations.
The Election Board will begin sending letters to kickstart this process before June 1, sending an address confirmation to registered voters who haven’t participated in any elections since the 2012 general election. The voter must respond within 60 days, or they are designated as “inactive;” however, despite this designation, they are still able to cast a ballot in elections and would not have to reregister. On the contrary, if the voter participates in any election or responds to update their voter registration information, they regain their “active” status. They must undergo the previously described process in its entirety before being designated as inactive again.
Oklahoma is one of seven states that allow this termination of voter registration, a process that requires a relatively prolonged period of voter inactivity to be initiated. This takes place every two years, and it tends to affect a proportionally large number of voters in Oklahoma. Out of the 2.2 million registered voters in Oklahoma, the last purge of registrations yielded around 290,000 of removed voters; although there are other logistical reasons for deletion, more than half were removed from rolls due to inactivity.
However, there are also partisan repercussions for this process. An audit of the 2017 purge of voters revealed that Democrats are typically more likely to be affected disproportionate to their representation of the voter base. Registrations prior to the deletions show that while Democrats made up about 39 percent of all registered voters, around 46 percent of the purged voters were Democrats. Republicans, however, made up about 33 percent of the purged voters while making up nearly 46 percent of the pre-purge voter registration totals.
The process of purging voter registration in Oklahoma is set to continue, although the various cases related to it continue to make their way through the courts. Following the publicity caused by the Georgia governor’s race, this topic also has the potential to be addressed legislatively, as institutions seek to strike a balance between security of elections and ease of access for those seeking to vote.