Inactive voters cut from rolls
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Monday, October 01, 2012
10/01/12 at 7:07 AM
Read all the election coverage.
The status of four voters inadvertently purged in 2011 is restored to active
A Tulsa World analysis of registered inactive voters removed from the rolls in 2011 led the state Election Board last week to restore the voting status of four voters who were inadvertently purged.
The four voters - one Republican, one Democrat and two independents - were among 111,512 statewide purged from the rolls in 2011 as part of the state's biennial process to trim inactive voters.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax attributed the inadvertent removal to migration of the state's voter registration database to a new computer filing system.
"It is highly likely these records were corrupted or never fully inserted into the modern system due to technical issues in the old" system, Ziriax said in an email to the World.
Despite their improper removal, the voters could have voted via a provisional ballot had they gone to the polls, Ziriax said. It is unknown if the voters attempted to cast ballots after their removal in May 2011.
Ziriax said the voters "apparently were removed too early in the process."
"Our goal is to achieve 100 percent correctness, ... We are already looking at ways to have secondary checks to ensure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again."
The restoration of the four voters' status occurred during a review by the World of registered voters removed by the state in 2011 as part of the mandated biennial process to remove inactive voters.
The World questioned the status of the four because records indicated they last cast ballots in the November 2008 election.
State law calls for voters to be removed after the second general election once they have been designated as "inactive," provided they fail to reactivate their registration within a given time period.
Two of the improperly purged voters were in Cleveland County and two were in Tulsa County. Their removal should not have occurred until 2013 assuming they failed to reactivate their registrations.
The analysis shows the number of registrations canceled inadvertently was minuscule compared to the overall number removed.
Christopher Buis was typical of many voters whose registrations were purged.
Records from the state Election Board indicate the 64-year-old Tulsa County resident hasn't cast a ballot since he registered as an independent in 2004. His registration was purged last year.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native said he is turned off by all the "bickering" going on now in politics and has no plans to vote anytime soon.
"Seeing how things are in politics and everything, I don't plan on registering," he said.
Buis said he was impressed with what President Barack Obama has accomplished during his first term but added it wasn't enough to entice him to re-register.
Later on, though, during the conversation, Buis said he "might sign up to vote, but it's no guarantee."
The last day to register for the Nov. 6 general election is Oct. 12.
Failing to vote is just one step toward being removed from the rolls.
A voter can remain on the rolls and not vote so long as he or she returns an address confirmation mailing from the state Election Board.
Voters are designated inactive if they don't respond to the address confirmation notice (or the notice is returned due to no forwarding address) and they subsequently fail to reactivate their registration within two general elections.
The state sends an address confirmation notice in the following cases:
It can take up to about eight years to purge a voter from the rolls, although the time period may be shorter in some cases.
- The county sends a first-class mailing of any kind to the voter and it is returned.
- The voter is identified by the state Election Board as a potential duplicate voter in another county or in another state.
- The voter surrenders his or her driver's license to the state after being issued one in another state.
- The voter has initiated no voter registration change and failed to cast a ballot during two prior general election periods.
The World analysis also found three cases where voters appear to have cast ballots in 2004 or 2006 after other state records show they died in prior years.
Ziriax said voter fraud is not likely the case with the discrepancy. He said data entry errors or voters inadvertently signing on someone else's line in the precinct registry are historically the cause in such cases.
The three cases identified by the World could not be investigated because paper records from elections are retained for only two years.
Representatives for both sides expressed no concerns regarding the process used to purge voters.
Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins said it was proper for voters who quit voting, move out of state or die to be removed from the rolls.
"I have no problem with that," Collins said. He did question how voters who cast ballots in 2008 could be removed via the biennial removal process.
"I certainly would think that is too soon to purge somebody," Collins said. "I would think as a lay person if you voted then that buys you another four years."
Matt Pinnell, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman, said the purging was critical.
"We want to make sure we have the cleanest list as possible," Pinnell said. "I think it cuts down on those voter fraud issues that candidates may have."
The World analysis found that of the 111,512 voters removed in 2011, the percentage of registered Republicans and Independents removed was disproportionate to their share of the overall voter registry.
Independents comprised about 22 percent of those removed in 2011 but only made up 11 percent of the total number of registered voters.
Conversely, while one in three of the purged voters were Republicans, they made up nearly 41 percent of the total voter registration before the removal process in 2011.
Observers attributed the higher purge rate for independents to their lower turnout rate at election time.
"They just don't turn out as often," said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor. "As a consequence, they end up on the purge list."
Ziriax said the purging of voters was a nonpartisan process in Oklahoma.
"The process for designating voters as inactive and for canceling the registrations of inactive voters who do not reactivate their registrations is clearly defined in the statutes and has been in place since the mid-1990s," Ziriax said. "This process is a purely administrative function, and a voter's party affiliation is not taken into consideration."
Inactive voter cancellations, 2011
Party, Percentage, Average age
Democrats: 45.6%, 48 years old
Republicans: 32.4%, 42 years old
Independents: 22%, 35 years old
Original Print Headline: Inactive voters cut
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471
League of Women Voters intern Israel Avila helps Erin Daves fill out a registration form at the YWCA in Tulsa. Avila was there to help sign up voters and update registrations for existing voters as part of National Voter Registration Day. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
The League of Women Voters set up stickers at the YWCA. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
League of Women Voters volunteer Mary Jo Neal (right) helps Michael and Verona Flanagan from Tulsa fill out a registration form at the YWCA. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World