AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As Texas opens for early voting and anticipates the upcoming Nov. 8 general Election Day, some may be unsure about whether or not they will be able to vote, or whether or not they’ve been purged from the voters’ list. Here’s an overview of the voter registration list, how it’s made, how it’s managed, and how voters can keep track of their registration status.
What is a voter roll purge?
The term “voter roll” is another term for a voter registration list, which records the names of all people who are registered to vote. Typically, a person is not able to cast a vote in an election unless their name appears on the voter roll.
However, the United States has an adult population of hundreds of millions of people that day-to-day change their names, move homes, get new phone numbers and update their licenses. Duplicate entries in voter registration data or other extra names, such as those of people who have died or who have stopped being eligible to vote, can make the voter roll less accurate. Because of that, as explained by the Brennan Center for Justice, “voter roll purges” are regularly done by state and local officials as a form of maintenance.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said that by keeping up-to-date voter rolls, elections are more efficient and secure. The NCSL posed that list maintenance helps protect against fraud, informs Election Day planning and budgeting, minimizes wait times at the polls, and simplifies post-election procedures by reducing the number of provisional ballots cast.
However, as posed by the Brennan Center, voter roll purges can create an issue when an eligible, registered citizen shows up to vote and discovers that their name has been removed from the list. The center has criticized that sometimes the process can be “shrouded in secrecy, prone to error and vulnerable to manipulation.” For example, in 2019, Texas faced controversy and legal challenges after seeking to purge nearly 100,000 voters from the roll who had been described as possible non-citizens with faulty data.
How does a voter roll purge work?
The NCSL detailed that officials often perform voter roll purges, or voter list maintenance, by going through the lists and reviewing voters with a few key points. However, states often have specific ways of addressing those steps, including:
- Checking for voters who have changed addresses
- In Texas, when voters apply for a “limited ballot” in an election because they moved to a new jurisdiction, or request a ballot with a federal postcard application that has a different address outside of their current registered data, clerks notify the clerk of that voter’s former county of residence.
- Removing deceased voters’ records
- In Texas, officials can verify this through data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, as well as through Social Security Administration data, family member reports, estate administration notices, or an election official’s personal knowledge.
- Removing voters convicted of disqualifying crimes
- In Texas, the Department of Public Safety prepares abstracts of every final judgment convicting a person age 18 or older of a felony and files it with the secretary of state. After that report, the registrar cancels that voter’s registration immediately.
- Removing voters adjudicated mentally incompetent
- Clerks of court in Texas are required to prepare a monthly abstract of each final judgment of mental incapacitation, restoration, or guardianship modifications including the right to vote. Once the registrar receives that report, a person’s voter registration can be canceled immediately.
- Canceling registrations due to residency issues
- In Texas, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office, if an initial voter registration certificate mailed to a person is returned to the registrar as “undeliverable,” the registrar will then mail the person a “Notice to Confirm Voter Registration Address.” The person is then expected to respond in writing with the required information, and the registrar will make a determination on their voter registration status.
- If a person doesn’t respond to the “Notice to Confirm Voter Registration Address,” the voter registrar will put them on a “suspense list.”
The suspense list, as explained by the secretary of state’s office, is a list held by the voter registrar of each county that contains the names of people whose voter registration status may be in question, including:
- People who didn’t respond to an address confirmation notice
- People whose renewal certificates were returned to the registrar as undeliverable
- People who were excused or disqualified from jury service because they were not a resident of that county
What is a “Suspension List”?
People on the suspense list are still considered to be registered voters. If a person on the suspense list shows up to vote and shows proof of identification and fills out a statement of residence, they will still be able to vote and their name will be removed from the list. The statement will be used to update the voter’s registration, and if the person on the suspense list has moved outside of the county, they’ll be given the option to vote provisionally.
However, the secretary of state’s office noted that voters who are still on the suspense list on Nov. 30 after the second general election for state and county officers that happens after the day their name was initially put on the list, the voter registrar will cancel their registration.
When is the voter roll made?
According to the Texas Election Code, the list of registered voters that each county uses adopts four individual forms at different times in the voting year.
The original list of registered voters is made before the beginning of early voting for the first election of each voting year, which is meant to include the names of voters that will be registered as of the day of the first election in each county for the voting year.
Supplemental lists of registered voters are made for each election held in a county in a voting year at the request of the official responsible for procuring election supplies. These lists add to the initially created voter roll with the names of voters who will have active registration on the next election day but did not appear on the original list.
Registration correction lists are made for each election held in a county and note the name of each person whose information was corrected or taken off of the roll. Extra copies of the corrected list are also made available for use in early voting and as needed.
The revised original list is considered an alternative to creating multiple lists meant to supplement the original voter roll. The revised list will need to contain the name of each voter whose registration will be effective on election day, instead of having supplemental lists for registered users and corrections.
Cancelations and challenges
The Texas Secretary of State’s office noted that voter registration cancelations are effective immediately. When a registrar cancels a person’s registration, the date of and reason for the cancelation are both entered on the registration application and other necessary documents.
The registrar is then required to send a written notice to the impacted voter within 30 days of the registration cancelation, according to the Texas Election Code. The notice is meant to be mailed to the address noticed on the voter registration application and any other known address of the voter.
As noted by the secretary of state’s office, a person whose voter registration has been canceled can contact the local county voter registrar to challenge the cancelation. The registrar can immediately reinstate a voter’s registration status if they find that the cancelation was a mistake. Otherwise, a voter can challenge a cancelation at a hearing before the voter registrar by filing a written, signed request for a hearing. After a hearing is requested, a person’s voter registration is automatically reinstated until the outcome of the challenge hearing.
For a cancelation challenge hearing, the Texas Election Code says that a hearing must be had within 10 days of the filed request unless the person who requested it asks for a later date. Within two days of the request being filed, the registrar is required to give notice to the voter of the date, time, and place for the hearing. The person challenging the cancelation can either appear in person to the hearing or file an affidavit with the registrar before the hearing begins.
The voter registrar is required to issue a written decision after the hearing and deliver it to the voter. If the registrar decides that the voter’s registration should not have been canceled, the registration was already reinstated when the challenge was filed and will remain in effect. However, if the registrar decides that the cancelation was valid, then the voter registration must be canceled on the 31st day after the registrar’s decision is issued.
Takeaways for Texas voters
The National Voter Registration Act requires systematic voter purges to be completed 90 days before a federal election. However, the NVRA does not appear to impact state elections, such as the upcoming Nov. 8 elections in Texas, in the same way. Meanwhile, the Texas Election Code’s Chapter 18 also notes down procedures for delivering updated voter rolls to county registrars even past the beginning of early voting.
“Can I still be taken off the voter roll?”
Because voter registration cancelations are effective immediately and the voter roll lists used by officials can be updated up until each election day, Texas voters could be taken off of the voter roll at any time. Systematic voter data is often reported monthly in Texas as well, and sometimes every week depending on the department that is reporting the data, such as the Texas Department of State Health Services or the Texas Department of Safety.
However, that also means that voters can be put back on the roll quickly since a person who is challenging a registration cancelation has their registration reinstated after they file a request for a hearing. This means that someone could be notified that their registration was canceled on a Thursday and register for a challenge hearing, be notified on the following Monday of their hearing date, and still vote in a Tuesday election.
Texas hosts a regularly-updating database of registered voters that people can use in order to check their registration status, learn how to register, and know what to bring on election day.
“What do I do if I’ve been taken off the list?”
If a person turns up to a polling place to vote while believing they are registered and is told that they are not on the voter roll, they may be able to vote on a provisional ballot. People who do not have an acceptable form of ID, those who vote during extended polling hours ordered by a state or federal court, or those who have applied for a ballot by mail but have not returned it or canceled it may also be able to vote using a provisional ballot.
As noted by the secretary of state’s office, the 2002 Help America Vote Act required that provisional ballots be offered to voters who say that they are registered in the precinct in which they are appearing, and any voter whose eligibility has been called into question by an election official. Being able to vote provisionally if they do not have the required photo ID is a Texas state addition to those federal requirements. The office noted in a 2022 training presentation that no voter who requests a provisional ballot should be denied one, and further insisted that provisional ballots do often end with a voter’s ballot being counted.
Provisional ballots include an affidavit that must be signed by the voter using them as well as a form for the election judge and county voter registrar. After filling out a provisional ballot, the voter must visit the voter registrar’s office within six calendar days of the election to either present an acceptable form of ID or execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration and present supporting ID. Voters may also, if applicable, submit one of the temporary affidavits or qualify for a permanent disability exemption in order for their provisional ballot to count.
Voters can go through the process of using a provisional or limited ballot to vote, or be in the process of challenging their voter registration cancellation, if they experience uncertainty with their registration status while at a polling location.