Understanding List Maintenance
- National Voter Registration Act Overview
- North Carolina List Maintenance
- Why does list maintenance matter?
- 2021 List Maintenance Data
In North Carolina, County Boards of Elections (CBOEs) must regularly update their voter registration lists to maintain accuracy and efficiency in administering elections. Every state undergoes a process to update their voter rolls as people move, pass away, or otherwise become ineligible to vote. Both federal and state laws govern how officials manage the list maintenance process.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA, also sometimes referred to as the “Motor Voter Act”)1 places specific requirements on voter registration for federal elections in order to ensure that states keep accurate voter rolls. Accurate list maintenance is a good thing, as we want safe and secure elections. Importantly, the NVRA also provides pathways for historically marginalized communities to access voter registration via state agencies.
How does the National Voter Registration Act impact list maintenance? The NVRA prohibits the removal of voters simply because they have not voted. Under the NVRA, states must send voters a confirmation mailing and provide voters an opportunity to respond. This is designed to protect the integrity of elections.
How does list maintenance work in North Carolina?2
In North Carolina, CBOEs review their voter registration lists to ensure accurate information about eligible voters. For example, CBOEs regularly receive information from the state to remove county residents who died or have been convicted of a felony. List maintenance is a routine process required by state and federal law. North Carolina voters can check their registration status here.
In odd-numbered years, like 2021, CBOEs begin a more comprehensive process to update voter rolls. In addition to removing deceased voters or people with felony convictions, CBOEs engage in three key list maintenance procedures: (1) Biennial List Maintenance, (2) Removal of Inactive Voters, and (3) National Change of Address (NCOA) Mailings.
Biennial List Maintenance
Removal of Inactive Voters
In recent years, list maintenance processes across the county, sometimes referred to as “voter purges,” have been wielded in an error-prone, unaccountable, and discriminatory manner that disproportionately impacts Black people, people of color, people with criminal convictions, rural communities, and poor and housing insecure people. Eligible voters can be removed from voter rolls through no fault of their own, presenting higher barriers to voting and a serious risk of disenfranchisement.
List maintenance processes must be transparent, accountable, and designed to ensure all eligible voters maintain their registration and ability to vote.
County boards of elections removed over 391,000 voters in the 2021 biennial list maintenance process, compared to over 570,000 voters in 2019. This change may be partly explained by high turnout in the November 2020 general election and by the implementation of online voter registration, which made it easier for voters to update their voter registrations.
Even though fewer voters were removed in the 2021 process than in 2019, the makeup of this year’s removals is concerning:4
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Contributors: Alissa Ellis, Sunny Frothingham, Caroline Fry, and Gino Nuzzolillo of Democracy NC.