Residents vote in the primary elections on UT campus in March. (Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT)
Texas election officials have been removing more people from the state’s voter rolls ever since the Supreme Court struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice.
The group says the court’s decision to specifically strike down one provision of the law led to the rise in voter purges.
The preclearance provision, also known as Section 5, required several states – including Texas – to get an OK from the federal government before enacting voting laws, changing election procedures or taking people off voter rolls. States purge their voter rolls periodically to remove people who have died or committed a felony.
Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and leader of the center’s Voting Rights and Elections project, says she sees a link between the court’s decision and recent voter purges.
“There is a ‘there there’ regarding the enfeebling of the preclearance provision,” she says.
The Brennan Center report looked at voter purges across the country. It found “changes were particularly notable in three states: Georgia, Texas, and Virginia.” The states were covered by Section 5 until the Supreme Court struck it down.
Perez says her group has been looking into state voter purges for at least a decade. About 360,000 more people were removed from Texas’ rolls between 2012 and 2014 – after the court’s decision – than were removed between 2008 and 2010.
“The sheer number of purges are increasing, and we looked at it,” she says. “We considered changes in population, we considered increases in registration rates, and we still determined that more voters were being purged.”
Perez says other forces are increasing the number of purges, too. For one, she says, access to the ballot has become increasingly political. There’s been a rise in conservative activist groups asking local officials to purge more people. Perez also says there are new tools being used in Texas. Some of them include cross-referencing voter rolls with databases she says are problematic.
Texas has had voter purges that have gone wrong before – including one in 2012 where people who were alive were removed from voter rolls because officials thought they had died.
“A lot has stayed the same,” Perez says. “A lot has gotten worse.”
Perez says while state officials have removed more names, there have been more Texans seeking provisional ballots at the polls, which are used when people aren’t on a voter roll for whatever reason.
That’s one reason her group studies voter purges.
“Many people are unable to find out that they’ve been purged until they get to the polls on Election Day,” she says. “We wanted to both reign in improper purge practices, stop bad purges and let voters know that this is something that they need to be on top of.”