Clerk: Cook County's methods of maintaining voter rolls better than SCOTUS-approved Ohio purge

By Tomas Kassahun | Jun 26, 2018

With a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Ohio state law allowing state election officials may remove people from the roll of eligible voters if voters skip a few elections and fail to respond to a mailed notice from state election officials, asking them to verify they still live in the place in which they claim to be registered to vote.

In Illinois' largest county, the official responsible for overseeing elections in Chicago's Cook County suburbs, Cook County Clerk David Orr, said he believed the court made a poor decision, because there are better ways of ensuring voter rolls are up to date.

“You can't prevent somebody from voting because they didn't vote in the last few elections,” Orr told the Cook County Record. “That's clearly an established law.”

According to Orr, Cook County makes an effort to ensure information on the voter rolls is accurate and up to date. 

Cook County Clerk David Orr  

When the information from the county shows that a voter has moved, passed away or has been inactive for multiple federal elections, Orr said they are removed from the rolls.

“In Ohio, after skipping a single federal election, voters are sent a notice,” Orr said. “If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls.” 

Orr said notices are unreliable, but the court justified  its decision by saying ‘we're not doing it because people aren't voting, we're doing it because they haven't responded to our notices.’

Orr said the burden should be on election administrators to keep voter rolls current and not outsource their duty to voters.

According to Orr, Ohio has purged 2 million voters since 2011, more than any other state.

If the same criteria had been applied to Illinois voter rolls, Orr said more than 300,000 voters would have been ineligible to participate in the 2016 presidential election. 

“Black voters - who tend to vote for Democrats - are twice as likely to be purged in the state’s largest counties,” Orr said.

Although the court says it's only trying to clean the voting rolls, Orr said there are other ways to clean the list.

In Illinois, Orr said other methods like automatic voter registration are used. The county also uses the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to collect data on people who may have moved to another state, Orr said.

“That data will tell us the hundreds of thousands of people that move from Illinois to (another)  state,” Orr said. “If we have data that shows people moved to other states, we can take them off.”

Orr adds that the data can show if people registered to vote in other states or if people died.

“All those things are historically why lists were harder to keep clean,” Orr said. “Now, we're ahead of the game in that.”

If mistakes are made with the data, Orr said election day registration can be added.

Because most people who move don't realize they must register to vote, Orr said automatic registration is key. 

Orr said it's not a question of people saying "I don't care," but people feel that they shouldn't have to keep registering because technology has advanced

“The focus should be on legitimate ways to keep your list clean, not illegitimate ways by saying 'if we don't get a notice back from you, sorry we won't let you vote,’” Orr said. 

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