ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio — The Ohio Secretary of State’s office recently purged over 124,000 registered voters from the state’s voter roll, including 954 registered in Athens County.
The state purged voters from its voter rolls if they had not voted in at least six years as of March 2022 and did not take steps to update or confirm their registration. A list of purged voters is available through an Ohio Secretary of State website. Purged voters may re-register at any time.
Athens County Board of Elections Deputy Director Tony Brooks said the purge, effective Feb. 21, 2023, is “standard procedure and we’re not concerned about it at all.” He said the purge is necessary to help “keep the voter rolls up.”
Ohio’s 2019 voter purge came under scrutiny after the state initially sought to remove about 40,000 voters who should not have been on the list. Brooks said there have been no signs of similar issues this time around.
Ohio Secretary of State Press Secretary Rob Nichols said, “We trust our bipartisan county boards of elections… to provide us with the data. They’re good at what they do, and they’ve been doing it for years.”
Executive Director of the Ohio League of Women Voters Jen Miller said the League has concerns about the process, however.
“We are concerned that otherwise eligible Ohioans could have been removed from the voting rolls,” Miller said. “We encourage all eligible voters to double check that they are registered to vote and their information is accurate and up to date before the voter registration deadline.”
The deadline to register for Ohio’s May 2, 2023 primary election is April 3. However, Athens County will not host a primary due to a lack of competitive local races, Brooks said.
Brooks said the purge helps the local board of elections, especially given that Athens County hosts many transient college students.
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“We have a lot of people that never report to us, especially with the college students, that they move out of state, so they stay on our voter rolls until we can purge them,” Brooks said.
DJ Amireh was among the voters purged last month. Amireh lives in Athens County but said he no longer resides at the Ohio University dorm address where he was registered. Amireh said he does not regularly vote and assumed he was no longer registered, although he was not aware his registration had recently been purged.
Brooks said purging voters “cleans up the voter rolls for our office,” which is necessary “because if not, somebody could potentially use that to go and vote at some point in time under somebody else’s name.”
Although Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose cited voter fraud in announcing the recent purge, Miller cast doubt on that explanation.
“Secretaries of state from both major political parties, including Secretary LaRose, all agree that fraud is exceedingly rare in Ohio,” she said.
Brooks said voter fraud is not something Athens County has “had a problem with,” but “the longer [an out or date voter registration] stays in your records, the more potential there is for that to be used improperly.”
Brooks encouraged residents, whether purged from the list or not, to keep their voter registration up to date. Residents who fail to update their registration by the deadline for a given election can cast a provisional ballot. That also updates their voter registration.
The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld Ohio’s voter purge process in 2018 in a 5-4 ruling. The minority objected that the process violated federal law by purging voters simply because they do not vote. The process remains controversial.
“Voter roll maintenance should be done with care and precision, rather than with a hatchet,” Miller said. She called on Ohio to adopt Automatic Voter Registration to “make our voter rolls more accurate and more secure, while also making voting more accessible.”
Nichols said the question of Automatic Voter Registration is one for the Ohio General Assembly. Regardless, Nichols said, “I think most Ohioans — Republicans and Democrats alike — believe it’s easy to vote in Ohio. It’s easy to register. It’s easy to vote.”
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