What is behind those sharp drops in voter registration in some counties?

Voter registration — the percentage of eligible citizens who register to vote — is a critical indicator of the electoral health of a geographic area.

Here in Kansas, a quick glance at the graph of the total numbers of registered voters over time in each county reveals an interesting phenomenon in our data set.

Despite the gradual trend upward in voter registrations, there are marked drop-offs in the registered voter totals across most — if not all — counties during specific time periods. For example, between the voter files we obtained on 11/1/2018 and 12/1/2018 Johnson county lost 15,438 voters. Similarly, between 3/7/2018 and 4/3/2018 Douglas county lost 7,946 voters. There are many more examples.

This caught our attention, so we reached out to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew for an explanation of the process used to clean voter rolls.

Often, drop-offs in registered voter totals are the result of periodic attempts by counties to clean up their voter files. This can include removing inactive voters and processing change of address forms. The Douglas County Clerk explained that their county follows the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, a federal law that specifies the basis for cleaning up voter rolls.

While the NVRA provides a variety of methods and safeguards for removing voters, the most common approach is to make at least 2 attempts to mail a confirmation card to anyone who they suspect has moved. If both attempts are returned incomplete, they are labeled as “inactive”. The individuals sit as inactive voters for a while as a safeguard before they are ultimately dropped from the rolls. More information about the implementation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is available here.

At KansasVotingData, we feel it is important to monitor these changes to Kansas’s voter rolls and draw attention to interesting trends or ask questions to provide insight into routine practices. It is equally important to understand the challenges inherent in the minutiae of election administration and to applaud the professionalism and hard work of those public officials we entrust to ensure fair and accessible elections.