Hundreds of voters in Arkansas incorrectly added to voter roll maintenance list
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Voter Registration Act. Many refer to this as the “motor voter act” because it requires state DMVs to offer voter registration opportunities to persons applying for a driver's license.
The law also prohibits states from removing registered voters from the voter rolls unless certain criteria are met. This includes standard things like the death of a person, a felony conviction or having moved to a different state. It also includes how frequently someone votes.
Kristin Foster is the deputy executive director of Get Loud Arkansas, and she said in the 2021 voter roll maintenance, around 100,000 people were removed from the voter rolls in Arkansas. She said not voting, whether by choice or by circumstance, is not a good reason for someone to be removed from the voter roll.
“It shouldn’t be taken away," Foster said. "It shouldn’t be use it or lose it.”
That National Voter Registration Act allows states to remove voters who have not voted in two consecutive federal general elections and failed to respond to a confirmation notice from an election’s office. Leslie Bellamy, director of elections with the Arkansas Secretary of State, said after a person misses two federal election cycles, they will get a postcard from their local county clerk to confirm their address.
“And then they mail that back if they want to continue to participate,” Bellamy said.
This notice automatically moves a voter to an inactive status. When a voter answers and returns the card to their county clerk, their status is returned to active. If someone missed or did not respond to the address confirmation notice, they do have another option.
“The only thing that you would have to do while you're in that inactive status is vote," Bellamy, said. "And that vote being recorded would trigger you to move to the active status that's automatic in our program.”
If a voter misses a third federal election, another mailing is sent out to confirm the address. If there is no response to the notice, the voter is removed.
However, there are thousands of voters in Arkansas, from Ashley County to Yell County and nearly every county in between, whose status is being incorrectly changed in 2023.
Sometimes people are removed immediately after missing only one election, sometimes they're removed on the next, and sometimes it does go that full two cycles. It just kind of depends, but what we see happening regularly is that folks who've missed just one or two elections are getting kicked off the voting rolls.Kristin Foster
Get Loud Arkansas provided Ozarks at Large with some data it collected from the secretary of state’s office on May 30, showing more than 1,400 Arkansas voters who participated in the 2022 election are on the list to be moved to an inactive status. Another 2,200 voters who registered in 2022 are listed as inactive, despite only being able to participate in one federal election, and another 324 voters have registered to vote after the deadline for the 2022 election are marked inactive, despite have zero opportunities to vote in a federal election.
We reached out to Becky Lewallen, the Washington County Clerk, to better understand this data and why these people may be listed as inactive. For some, it could have been as simple as a misprinted or incorrectly entered mailing address. Lewallen said when a person registers to vote, an ID card is mailed to that individual. If this card is returned to the county clerk’s office, they mark the voter as inactive. Of the more than 2,200 voters on the list who registered in 2022 prior to the election, about half of them fall in this category.
What’s less clear is the remaining 1,153 voters on this list. Ozarks at Large provided Lewallen with several different examples of voters on this list and she could not determine why they had been added to it.
The same is true for those 324 newly registered voters. As Bellamy pointed out earlier, voters who are currently marked as "inactive" can just vote in the upcoming election and their status will be renewed to "active" again. But, if for some reason a person cannot or does not vote in the 2024 general election, they are significantly closer to being removed completely from the roll.
Voting is already something that can seem a little intimidating. It feels like we're all supposed to know exactly what to do when we get there, but then, it's something we do every couple years, so it's not like the most familiar process for people. And you walk in and you may be feeling a little nervous or intimidated anyway. And then they go "Nah, you're not on the list." I mean, people may never come back if that happens.Kristin Foster
Foster and Get Loud Arkansas ran demographic data on the 100,000 people who were removed from the voter roll in 2021. She said people of color were nearly twice as likely to be removed from the voter rolls, and people under the age of 35 made up the vast majority of those removed.
Bellamy said she thinks the intention of this regular maintenance of the rolls is to help if people have moved, making sure people who shouldn’t be voting in Arkansas elections for whatever reason are not casting a ballot. And in her opinion, two federal election cycles are a good trigger for that.
“It appears as if you're not participating or you're not able to participate anymore," Bellamy said. "Either you've passed away, or you've moved, or you're just not interested and don't want to vote anymore. If you're really going to participate most people at least participate in those cycles.”
This is inconsistent as well. Another list from data collected by the secretary of state’s office contains more than 74,000 registered voters who have not voted in an election since 2016. Some voters on the list have not voted in an election since April of 2011. And although all 74,000 plus are listed as “inactive,” they could show up to vote in the 2024 election and get bumped right back up to an active status.
Get Loud Arkansas has a simple form people can fill out to check if they are at risk of being removed from the voter roll this year. Foster said she has heard from people who were surprised to find their name on that list.
“We've heard of folks who were getting hair fixed and they asked their hairdresser to put in their name for him and their hairdresser was on the list," Foster said.
If people are on the list and their addresses have not changed, Foster said people can fill out the form and the organization will mail everything in on their behalf.
"If your address has changed, you do have to fill out a new registration form, and that's for anybody," Foster said. "If you move and your address changes, you need to pull out a new form to get up to date with your county clerk.”