New Democracy Map

Unfair Voter Roll Purging is Legal in Several States and Impacts One-Third of Americans

Democracy Maps
5 min readOct 25, 2023
Image of a person holding an “I Voted” sticker. Photo via Unsplash, courtesy of Manny Becerra (@mannyb).

Across the country, 20 states remove otherwise eligible voters from registration rolls, based solely on how frequently they vote. This tactic results in the unwarranted, erroneous removal of hundreds of thousands of voters each year. In fact, one-third of American voters (34%) live in a state that purges voter rolls in this way.

The latest Democracy Map from the Movement Advancement Project provides a real-time tracking tool for this harmful policy and highlights states that initiate voter removal based on inactivity in recent elections.

New Democracy Map: Voter Roll Purges Based Solely on Infrequent Voting (via MAP)

Why do states remove voters from registration lists?

Voter registration lists — or voter rolls — are an important component of a well-functioning election administration system. All states must maintain their voter rolls to keep them accurate, and there are acceptable methods for doing so, like removing voters who have moved or died.

However, conducting voter roll purges based on inactivity is an improper form of voter roll maintenance that erroneously removes otherwise eligible voters from the rolls. This practice has a disproportionate impact on communities that have historically been targeted with voter suppression efforts, including people of color, people without stable housing, and other marginalized communities.

What is the threshold for inactivity?

The threshold for removal based on inactivity varies by state. In some states, the removal process is initiated in as little time as after not voting for two years; in other states, up to five non-voting years can pass before removal is initiated.

Once removal is initiated, state processes vary widely. In Ohio, for instance, the removal process is initiated after two non-voting years. From there, the state sends the voter an address confirmation notice. If the voter neither returns the confirmation notice nor engages in any sort of election activity for an additional four years, the voter’s registration is cancelled.

How are voters notified if they are purged?

The National Voter Registration Act requires a notification process that states must follow* before they can remove voters who have moved and failed to update their registrations. The process involves:

  • Mailing a forwardable notice with a pre-addressed, postage-paid return card to registrants whose address has changed.
  • If the voter returns the card, the registration record is either updated with the information the voter provides or, if the voter has moved outside the jurisdiction, deleted.

If a registrant fails to respond to this notice, jurisdictions have the option to designate a voter as inactive. Voters who fail to respond with an updated address can be removed from the rolls only if they fail to vote in an election between the time the notice is sent and the second federal general election that follows.

However, this presents unfair challenges to voters experiencing housing insecurity, for example, who may not receive an address confirmation notice by mail. In this case, a voter might travel a significant distance to a polling place only to find their registration record has been deleted. This could prevent a voter from casting their ballot if they live in one of the 28 states where voter registration deadlines occur before Election Day.

* Note: most states have language similar or identical to the National Voter Registration Act in their statutes; however, not all states are subject to these requirements.)

What are best practices for voter roll maintenance?

State participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) offers another approach to maintaining voter rolls. ERIC is an organization that allows states to share data amongst themselves, such as information on voters who have died and need to be removed from the roll or relocated voters that need to be re-registered in another state.

However, in recent years, a concerning trend has emerged: an exodus of conservative states from ERIC. In 2023 alone, eight states have withdrawn, which means that more than half of eligible voters live in states that are not part of ERIC.

Why are voter purges relevant now?

According to Demos, states reported removing over 19 million records from their voter registration rolls between the close of registration for the 2020 general election and the close of registration for the 2022 general election. More than 4 million voters were removed simply because of infrequent voting.

Despite these alarming statistics, voter purging tends to be overlooked. Still, the practice is persistent and states have purged voters simply because they were not able to vote in past elections:

  • Ohio — in early 2023, nearly 11,000 otherwise eligible voters were removed.
  • Wisconsin — more than 100,000 otherwise eligible voters’ records were removed in August 2023.
  • Georgia — in September 2023, over 189,000 otherwise eligible voters were cancelled.
  • North Carolina — the state reports that in 2023, over 260,000 otherwise eligible voters were removed from voter rolls.

The reality is that this kind of voter roll purge has the potential to swing election results. For context, the margin of victory in some of these states in the 2020 presidential election far exceeds the number of voters who were purged this year due to infrequent voting. In Georgia, for example, the margin of victory in that election was just under 12,000 votes.

Voter purges are particularly relevant in states that have additional strict requirements for voting:

For example, if a state does not allow same-day voter registration, a voter may be purged from the voting list, not realize it, and be unable to vote when they show up on Election Day. Currently only 22 states allow voters to register to vote on Election Day.

Voter roll purges unfairly target people who cannot make it to the polls to vote in every federal election because of additional barriers. This includes people who cannot take time off from work to vote, and people who don’t have transportation to get to a faraway polling location.

In some states these laws also impact people who live in one of the many states with restrictive voter ID policies. Due to these obstacles, voter roll purges impact historically underrepresented communities, such as individuals in poverty and people of color.

Voter purging is a persistent problem that enables voter suppression and threatens access to the ballot each election cycle. With over one-third of eligible voters (34%) living in states that initiate voter removal based on inactivity in recent elections, this negative policy affects a sizable proportion of Americans and must be addressed as we move into 2024.



Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps tracks more than 50 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.