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Kentucky to purge 127,000 ineligible registrations from voter rolls on Friday

Door with vote here sign
Ryland Barton
Election Day at Morton Middle School in Lexington.

Kentucky election officials have been working to clean up the state's voter rolls in recent years, and on Friday they say about 127,000 people who have died, moved or otherwise become ineligible will be removed.

“Cleaning” Kentucky’s voter rolls has been a major priority for Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams and the state Board of Elections.

In recent years, election officials have sent out postcards to the addresses of “inactive” voters to verify if people are still eligible.

During a state legislative committee meeting on Thursday, State Board of Elections lawyer Taylor Brown said the Census confirmed that many parts of the state have too many registered voters compared to their actual populations.

“Over 127,000 may seem large. But because the statutory process was neglected by previous regimes for so long, this is the first time we’ve purged voters from rolls since 2015 and only the third term in a decade,” he said.

The total includes about 60,000 Democratic and 51,000 Republican registrations, Brown said.

Under the state’s purging process, officials use data from change-of-address forms or DMV registration to identify voters that have moved, died or have otherwise become ineligible and remove them from voter rolls.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive think-tank, says voter purges can be an often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls by deleting names from registration lists if states use bad or outdated data. It can also leave out historically disenfranchised voters and newly eligible U.S. citizens.

During a hearing of the state House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on Thursday, lawmakers questioned Brown on why the process of purging rolls can’t be automated and whether it’s sensible to expect the voter to confirm their eligibility.

“We’re trying to strive for a zero error rate here. I get mail from the four people that lived in my house before I did, and it’s frustrating to have another name associated with the address. But we have to let the process play out,” he responded.

Brown also pointed to Kentucky’s use of the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which is used to coordinate voter registration data with other states.

ERIC allows states to expand ballot access by giving officials information that helps them reach out to eligible voters who have moved into the jurisdiction but have not yet registered to vote.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, a Republican from Louisville, said he was skeptical of the ERIC system.

“Do your homework on ERIC. We’re going to have a lot of questions. A lot of legislators are concerned about whether it works. People say ERIC goes out of bounds and we need to look into that,” he said.

This skepticism is playing out in other states too. Louisiana became the first state to withdraw its membership citing "concerns raised by citizens, government watchdog organizations and media reports.

“Does anybody hand-count their votes?” Bratcher asked.

Wendey Underhill, an elections expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said hand-counting is time-consuming and often inaccurate.

“That’s very expensive. Imagine a ballot with 18 races on it where you have to do a count and recount of each. We’re also pretty imperfect as human beings,” she said.

The Kentucky attorney general already conducts post-election audits in a random selection of counties every election year.

Republican Rep. John Hodgson from Fisherville filed House Bill 217 this session, which would expand post-election audits to all counties. He also wants officials to hand-count ballots in one precinct in each of the state’s 120 counties during every election.

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Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.