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Opinion: Why purging the voter rolls isn’t as bad as it might sound
07222018 GOVERNOR 04.jpg
Alto resident Carolyn Garrison, far left, gets her voter access card from poll officer Angie Lowder at the Hall County Government Center in Gainesville, Thursday, July 19, 2018, during the penultimate day of early voting for the Republican primary runoff between Casey Cagle and Brian Kemp. - photo by David Barnes

The incessant carping that seems to provide background noise for everything related to holding elections in Georgia these days rose to a new level last week with the announcement the state has identified some 330,000 names that need to be purged from its election rolls.

Based on the reaction from some who seem to have become professional voting critics, you would have thought the concept of holding free elections within our democratic republic was being abandoned forever and polling places closed for good.

That’s not the case at all.

While some have just become “woke” to the whole process of cleaning up the voters’ list, it’s a procedure that has gone on for years and years. People die. People move. People sign up to vote and never do. To keep the voter rolls manageable, election officials periodically go through and clean out the list. To fail to do so would result in a chaotic and unmanageable database.

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And it’s not just Georgia. It happens all across the nation. The newest effort to trim the list proposed by the Secretary of State’s office would remove about 4% of voters statewide. Indiana is on the way to trimming 10% of its voters; Idaho and Wisconsin 9%; Oklahoma nearly 8%.

It’s a process that happens everywhere, and one that has been part of the election cycle for decades. And before anyone can blame the Republican Party, the current version of the federal law that dictates doing so was passed when a Democrat was president, and enacted by Democratic leadership in Georgia.

The truth of the matter is that once someone registers to vote, they don’t always update their registration when they move from town to town, or state to state. Those people can’t be allowed to vote where they don’t live, or to be registered in more than one locale, so it often falls upon state and local election officials to remove their names from the voting list based on data such as postal addresses.

The more controversial “purging,” however, involves those who do not regularly vote. According to the Secretary of State’s office, which is responsible for the holding of elections, Georgia law requires the removal of registered voters who are inactive for two general elections.

Some would argue that it doesn’t matter how long voters go without voting, they should never be removed from the voting rolls because one day they might decide to cast a ballot. While there may be some merit to that argument, we would suggest that anyone who goes years without voting isn’t really interested in doing so anyway, and having millions of names of people who will never visit a polling place clogging up the voting lists doesn’t make a lot of sense.

But here’s a key point in the discussion. Those removed from the list do not lose their “right to vote,” as some have suggested. If they are qualified, they can maintain their registration by contacting their voter registration office. If removed from the list, they can register again. Only by failing to do anything would they be denied a chance to cast a ballot in a particular election, and even then they could register for future elections. 

All it takes is the demonstration of a little personal responsibility.

Critics of the election system and those who are tasked with the responsibility for making it work would have you believe the government is always the problem in the voting process. We would respectfully suggest that sometimes it’s the people rather than the system.

In recent years we have made it easier than ever to register to vote, and the end result is many people register who never bother to exercise the privilege. Of those proposed for removal from the state’s voting list prior to next year’s elections, some 120,000  — more than a third of the total — registered and never voted at all after doing so. Never.

The complaint about the removal of nonvoters from the voting list is just one of several issues that are involved in a federal lawsuit against the state over its election process. The location of polling places, length of time it takes to vote, and reliability of voting equipment are also being challenged.

And while we casually accept the expectation that we present an ID in order to use a credit card to buy a T-shirt, some think it is somehow un-American to ask for proof of identity from those who want to cast a ballot.

In some countries where voting freedom may be a new concept, potential voters risk their very lives in order to cast a ballot at great personal risk. Here, we complain that having a polling precinct in a church may offend someone, or that having one in a police station may intimidate potential voters and keep them from casting a ballot. And that waiting an hour to vote is too long.

The logistics of holding an election are daunting. It is a cyclical process that happens sporadically. There is no permanent army of poll workers employed; no polling places used solely for that purpose year-round; no machinery installed at a permanent location. Any such logistical nightmare is apt to have problems, and there is always the possibility of mistakes being made.

The state soon will be sending additional notification to those about to be removed from the voting list. If the recipients want to remain registered, all they have to do is respond. Anyone who has a question as to whether they are registered, can easily find out online at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov or through their local voter registration office. It isn’t hard to do, and only takes minutes.

Any registration issues can be resolved well in advance of an election with just a little bit of effort, but potential voters need to show a willingness to be involved in the process to make it happen.

That’s not too much to ask given the importance of the voting privilege. Truth is, if you aren’t willing to be involved enough in the process to make sure your voter registration is up to date, you probably don’t need to be making decisions about who should be elected to public office anyway.

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