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Inactivity not the sole standard for purging voters from Maryland rolls

A line of full ballot boxes at a polling place in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore city. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

A line of occupied voting booths in 2017 at a polling place in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Marylanders who don’t get to the polls much, if ever, are not in danger of being purged from the rolls simply for not exercising their right to vote.

The United States Supreme Court Monday ruled that an Ohio law allowing voters to be removed from the rolls for failing to vote does not violate the 25-year-old National Voter Registration Act. In Maryland, elections officials said that while they do remove some voters, inactivity isn’t the only standard.

“You could have registered to vote in 1989 and never cast a vote and still be eligible and on the rolls,” said Mary Cramer Wagner, director of voter registrations and petitions for the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Federal law prohibits states from removing a voter simply for failing to vote. The law, however, requires states to maintain accurate voter rolls and remove the names of those who have died or moved or are otherwise ineligible to cast a ballot.

Nearly 118,000 Maryland voters were purged — state elections officials prefer the term “canceled” — from the voter rolls in calendar year 2017 for various reasons, including death, moving out of state and for serving a criminal sentence.

In Ohio, elections officials purge voters based on two standards: inactivity over three federal elections in a six-year period and the failure to return a card that is mailed after a first missed election. That card is sent in an effort to determine if the voter still lives at the registered address.

Ohio voters who mail the card back or simply vote continue to be registered.

In Maryland the voting laws appear similar, with one key difference. Voters in Maryland are not required to return a mailing in order to remain active.

“We don’t take that into consideration,”  said Cramer Wagner.

Currently, there are more than 3.9 million active voters on the rolls in Maryland. An additional 295,000 voters are listed as inactive — a voter purgatory of sorts where the voter is not off the rolls but remains eligible to vote and could do so simply by showing up at the polls.

“We do a mailing, and we get a note from the postal system that the voter is not at that address, they go on the inactive list, but you’re still eligible to vote,”  said Cramer Wagner. “It just means we don’t know where you are.”

Those inactive voters could remain on that list indefinitely provided that official mailings from the either the state or local boards of elections are not returned as undeliverable.

Voters whose mail is being returned then have two federal elections — about four years — to cast a ballot. If they don’t vote and the post office is still returning official correspondence as undeliverable, the voter can be removed.

“As long as we know where they are, they remain registered,”  said Cramer Wagner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.





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