The U.S. Department of Justice wants to know how South Carolina, and 43 other states, purge voters from the rolls.
By the end of this month, South Carolina will respond.
South Carolina’s State Election Commission does not purge voters from its statewide voter registration database, said Chris Whitmire, the commission’s spokesperson.
However, Whitmire said the commission does remove some names from lists that show up at the polls because of death, long-term inactivity, failure to report a move, felony convictions, among other reasons.
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Even if a voter is taken off of the active list, elections officials say, systematic backstops are triggered to make sure authentic voters can cast their ballot.
“We don’t purge voters,” Whitmire said. “Just because a voter isn’t on the list (at a precinct) doesn’t mean they can’t vote.”
The response comes in the wake of a DOJ letter sent in late June asking elections officials in 44 states to explain how they comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
We don’t purge voters. Just because a voter isn’t on the list (at a precinct) doesn’t mean they can’t vote.
Chris Whitmire, spokesman for South Carolina State Election Commission
The NVRA or “Moter Voter Act” was enacted to help people register to vote, but also specifies when voters may be kicked off the rolls. The law requires states to “conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists.”
The DOJ letter was sent on the same day the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter requesting states release personal voter information.
South Carolina maintains records of all registered voters since 1968 in an electronic database, Whitmire said. Even when a voter is determined to be “inactive,” their information remains in the database.
“It’s a very methodical process on how voters are moved to inactive status,” said Wanda Hemphill, York County elections director.
The election commission’s letter aims to explain that thinking to the DOJ. State commission officials can declare a voter “inactive” if:
▪ A voter has died, or is declared mentally incompetent: The commission regularly cross-checks the voter database with recent deaths reported by South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control or Social Security Administration.
1968 South Carolina keeps and maintains records of all registered voters from 1968 through today in an electronic database. Even if a voter is determined to be “inactive,” their information will still be stored in the database.
If a voter is declared mentally incompetent in a court of law, they also can be stricken from the “active” list. Whitmire says this is an exceedingly rare case.
▪ A voter is convicted of a felony: State officials also cross-check the database with updates from the state’s court administration. They also get information from the DOJ when a voter is convicted in federal court. The state commission then sends a notice to the voter saying they have been placed on the “inactive” list.
▪ A voter moves to a new address: This only becomes a problem when the voter does not update their address with the proper county elections commission. Officials typically send a confirmation card to residents every few years to update where they live. County elections officials can pull up the information on all registered voters in South Carolina, whether they’re inactive or “archived.”
Even if voters move only a short distance from their previous address, they may need to vote at a different precinct. To ensure a voter will be on the correct roll and precinct, voters are asked to check their status with the county elections office.
“People don’t understand that, you’re supposed to keep your (addresses) updated,” said Bill Allen, who works in the Lancaster County Voter Registration office. “That happens very frequently with us.”
People don’t understand that, you’re supposed to keep your stuff updated.
Bill Allen, with the Lancaster County Voter Registration office
▪ A voter has not voted in an election for more than eight years: This process takes the most time. For example, if a voter hasn’t shown up to the polls since the 1970s, even if they never moved, they can be deemed “inactive” if they do not respond to a confirmation card. If the voter then chooses to vote in an election, they may not appear on the rolls of their precinct.
Still, poll workers are trained to request photo identification and proof of a local address in all cases. Once that information is furnished, the voter is allowed to vote on a provisional ballot. State and county workers then will determine whether the vote can stand before placing the voter back on the “active” list.
“If they show up and say ‘I’m here to vote, here’s my ID,’ and we can find out, ‘Yes, you’re registered, there’s nothing in the record to show you’ve moved away,’ you would be allowed to vote,” Whitmire said.
Responsibility of the voters
Whitmire said the state commision will send a letter in response to the DOJ by the end of July, largely pointing out the system’s backstops and processes.
Hemphill said it’s important for anyone who moves to, or away from, the state to remain aware of their voting status. If you don’t update information at the local elections office, you can do so at the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, she said.
“We ensure every measure to allow a person to vote,” Hemphill said. “A lot of people assume it’s an automatic voter registration in each county, but they have to do the check themselves.”
Upcoming elections in York County
Rock Hill will hold elections for mayor and three city council seats on Oct. 17. Filing runs 8 a.m. July 19-5 p.m. Aug. 18.
The filing fee is $336.76 to run for mayor or Council.