Official: Reducing voter rolls will take time

·4 min read

May 26—In 2018, Kentucky entered into a consent decree with the United States Department of Justice that requires the state to remove inactive voters from its voter rolls.

The decree came about because, according to the DOJ, the state hadn't removed voters who had become ineligible, due to moving out of Kentucky without notifying election officials, since 2015. The state also hadn't sent required notice to voters since 2009.

The state was ordered to come up with a plan to identify people who had moved and to educate the public on the importance of keeping their voter information up to date.

The Secretary of State's office is working to remove inactive voters from the rolls, and it gets information about inactive voters all the time.

For example, deaths are reported to the Secretary of State's office from the Office of Vital Statistics, so those voters can be deleted from the lists, and the Administrative Office of the Courts sends names of convicted felons who have lost their right to vote. The AOC also sends information about those who lose voting rights due to being found mentally incompetent by the courts.

But there are still more than 400,000 names on the potentially inactive list who have changed addresses, moved to other states or have simply lost interest in voting. Those names could be expunged from the rolls after the 2024 general elections, if they don't vote between now and then.

But the process of taking someone off the voter lists is, by design, a slow one.

"The only way to remove them is over this period of time" and by making attempts to contact voters who appear inactive, said Jennifer Scutchfield, Kentucky's assistant Secretary of State.

According to the Daviess County Clerk's office, there are 78,400 registered voters in Daviess County. That's more voters than there are county residents over the age of 18 — that is, people who are eligible to vote, according to U.S. Census data. The census said 76,346 Daviess residents were over 18, according to recent data.

Jason Potts, a Maceo resident and Certified Public Accountant, compiled data on Daviess County using census data, and he also concluded there are more registered voters than there are people old enough to vote in the county. Potts, who has worked with a group looking at voter registration numbers across Kentucky, said he has spoken to elected officials and candidates about the issue.

"It was really eye-opening," Potts said. "If you look at the state as a whole, there are 190,000 voters more than there are people over 18 in the census."

Potts said the group hasn't found any evidence of voter fraud in Daviess County, but did find deceased voters on the rolls, including one voter who would be 116 if still alive. The group also checked for people they knew had moved out of the county, and they found some of them still listed as registered voters.

While some political issues are divisive, having voters rolls free of inactive voters is not, Potts said.

"It's something people of all backgrounds are interested in learning about," he said. What people Potts speaks to want to know is "when is it going to be fixed."

Removing inactive voters was a priority of Secretary of State Michael Adams. It was an issue Adams ran on when campaigning for the office in 2019. In February, Adams' office announced that 100,000 names of deceased people had been removed from the active rolls.

A list of possibly inactive voters was created in 2018, after the consent decree. Scutchfield said in 2020, postcards were sent to those voters to determine if they had moved.

People the state didn't hear back from weren't suddenly stricken from the rolls. Some, Schutchfield said, might not vote in every election, so at least two federal election cycles — 2020 and 2024 — must go by without those people voting before they are removed from the rolls.

"One thing voters and the public need to understand is Kentucky doesn't require you to de-register when you move," Schutchfield said. There would be no way to enforce such a law, if it did exist, she said.

People can remove themselves from the voting rolls if they move by sending a letter to the Secretary of State's office. The letter would have to include a signature and personally identifying information, such as a date of birth and a way for the office to verify the letter.

The state is still making efforts to reach inactive voters.

"In February, nearly 400,000 people who hadn't voted in 2020 were sent a postcard to verify their voter information," said Michon Lindstrom, communications director for Adams' office. "There is a process to get those (rolls) cleaned up. It is a couple-year process."

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse