We are weeks away from an election and we are once again reminding voters to check their voting status. No matter who you are or where you live, you must ensure that you can participate in our nation’s elections. Given widespread voter purges, in Mississippi and beyond, we are concerned that some voters may be removed from the rolls without their knowledge.
That’s why last Wednesday, One Voice, MS NAACP, Civic Engagement Roundtable, MS Poor People’s Campaign, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law held a press conference to highlight that counties throughout Mississippi are improperly purging voters. We found that many counties are putting voters on inactive lists or removing them without notice. After an analysis of data from the circuit clerks’ offices throughout the state, we are reminding voters to do all they can to ensure they have not been removed from the voting rolls, and the corrective steps they should take if they have been purged.
MORE: Op-Ed: Voter Purges Are Increasing Across The South. We Must Put A Stop To The Practice
To be clear, the maintenance of voter rolls is a normal process of cleaning voter data, eliminating duplicates, removing persons who are deceased or have been convicted of a disenfranchising felony and removing inactive voters. Unfortunately, Mississippi has used this process as a voter suppression tool by dropping voters from the rolls without notice. This is traumatic for voters, and it limits their ability to participate in our nation’s democracy.
When voters are removed from the rolls without notice, eligible Americans are unable to vote or are forced to cast provisional ballots. What is more, voter purges have increased substantially over the last decade. And the increase has been highest in states with a history of voting discrimination, according to Brennan Center research.
To put this issue in perspective, voter purging is the number one complaint from our voter protection hotline. It is very common for us to receive calls from voters who have voted at one place for years, only to discover that they are no longer eligible to vote at this location. Once our election protection volunteer determines that the caller is in the right place, we encourage them to vote by affidavit ballot, a process that is usually discouraged by poll workers. Most of the time, a poll worker tells the voter to go to another polling place or to their local county courthouse to cast their ballot. This almost guarantees that this person will not vote on that day. Our ancestors have fought too hard to see their descendants turned away from the polls through confusion, trickery, and voter suppression.
In 2020, our Election Protection hotline received hundreds of calls from voters in Madison County who had voted in the general election but were unable to vote in the run-off at the same polling place. Our partners at Legal Defense Fund requested a list of the voters who had been purged that year that we never received.
Our staff tried again to retrieve this information from roughly 24 circuit clerk offices. Sadly, only five responded. Most of whom charged us exorbitant fees for these lists. We are exercising our right to vote and encouraging our friends to do the same, and are forced to pay for information that should be free. Some of the lists we received were shocking; the over 50,000 people on the lists we’ve received don’t even represent a fraction of counties in this state.
We know that our vote is our power. That is why Mississippians, and honestly, voters in every state, must double-check their voting status. Voters should ensure that they can still vote where they typically vote and that their voting status is active. This information can be verified through the Secretary of State’s website and through the local circuit clerk’s office.
I am clear that we have some very good circuit clerks and election commissioners who are committed to making sure that everyone can vote. But we are also clear that there are some people who want to take this right away. Voting is a human right, not a privilege. We will assert our rights today and every day.
Black Mississippians are no strangers to attacks on their right to vote, but we are committed to maintaining democracy and prevailing over every voter suppression tactic that emerges. Voters in every state must be similarly committed.
Nsombi Lambright is the executive director of One Voice and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.
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