I learned about voting from my mother, who took me with her to vote in the historic Franklin Courthouse when I was a preschooler.
She always treated Election Day like a special occasion and never missed the opportunity to vote — and that rubbed off on me. To this day, every Election Day has the feel of a holiday.
I can’t be the only person who values the ability to vote and opportunity to vote who celebrates the right so many have had to fight for, although Tennessee ranks 49th in voter turnout in the U.S.
What doesn’t help our voting statistics are the customary purges of voter rolls.
Purging, which refers to the process of removing voters from registration lists to update state registration rolls, isn’t new. The 1993 Voter Registration Act specified voters can be removed from rolls for a criminal conviction, a request by the voter to remove them, a voter completing and returning a change of address card, or death.
Under the NVRA, states must have a general program that makes “a reasonable effort to identify and remove the names of voters who have become ineligible to vote by change of address.”
But, in August, the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan law and policy institute, reported election officials across the country have stricken millions of voters from the rolls in a process that is secretive and prone to error and manipulation.
In Williamson County, this means 15,600 people were purged after Jan. 1, 2018. While many certainly were removed due to the reasons listed by the NRVA, about 3,000 of those were deemed “inactive” voters, and how the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office defines inactivity is confusing.
The Secretary of State’s web site says a voter may be purged “if the voter fails to respond to a confirmation notice, and if the voter fails to otherwise update the voter’s registration over a period of two consecutive regular November elections following the date the notice was first sent.”
Prior to mid-2018, when the Tennessee General Assembly changed the law on purging, a voter who had not voted in two election cycles would be deemed inactive. The election commission in the county of residence would then send a confirmation notice, beginning the purge process. Failure to vote in the next two federal elections would complete the purge.
Now, a voter is only sent the confirmation notice if the local Election Commission has reason to believe he or she has moved. Election officials can no longer use a voter’s inactivity as a reason to start the purge process.
What this means in practical terms is that an election official with ill intent — the Brennan Center also noted states with histories of racial discrimination are more likely to show large numbers of voter purges — cannot strike voters simply for the act of missing a couple of elections.
With a presidential primary election coming up March 3, the last date to register to vote in that election is Feb. 3. Leave nothing to chance if you, like me, look forward to this special “holiday." Check to ensure you are still eligible to vote.