Is Neal Kelley’s PURGE of OC Voter Lists a SCANDAL??? (No.)

[Write this down — you may need it:  And now we begin.]

I like to think that I’m as attentive as the next person to the problem of stripping away the right of people to vote as a means of imposing control of the privileged few over the beleagurerd many.  So when I saw this story, County voter rolls shrink by a dramatic 17%by Martin Wisckol in the Register, I immedately jumped up onto the ramparts — frankly, until that moment I didn’t even realize that my home had ramparts — and began singing “Angry Angry Men” from Les Miz.  This did not go well for anyone.  After I picked myself up, I calmed down and tried to figure out what was going on.

Orange County has removed one of every six voters from its active voter rolls, a massive update that surpasses the number of voters removed in every other county in the state combined.

About 281,000 registered voters have been re-designated because they haven’t voted in the past two biannual federal elections cycles. If they haven’t moved or died, they can still vote in future elections – but they will no longer receive sample ballots with candidate information, which cost about 60 cents each to print and mail. If they are permanent mail voters, they will no longer receive mail ballots.

It’s the first time Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley has made the large-scale effort to move voters to the inactive rolls and he said he believes this is the only county to do so since November.

“Without question, we are the most proactive in maintaining our database,” Kelley said. His office also peruses death rolls and change-of-address lists in updating its records.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS THAT IS HAPPENING IN OC?  Errr — yeah.  While it’s of concern, it’s not exactly a scandal — or even unreasonable.  It just means that it puts a burden on the citizenry to give those around us a nudge and say something like:

Write this down — you may need it:

These people aren’t removed from the voting rolls — yet.  They can still vote, if they’re still Orange County residents and alive.  (That’s reasonable, I guess.)  For now, they just aren’t going to get the mailings that “active” voters get — and that’s a problem, because that lack of communication may in turn further reduce the likelihood that any actually still eligible voters on the list do vote.  And that’s where the rest of us have to make up the difference.

Here’s what the Registrar of Voters’ site has to say:

Maintaining an Accurate Voter List

Voter List Basics

Before understanding the challenges of maintaining an accurate voter list it is first helpful to know what a voter list is and how it is used. When you register to vote the information you entered on the form is entered into a database maintained by our office. This data identifies you as a qualified voter, eligible to vote in any countywide election or local election. In the United States the information you provide is based on the “honor system”, which means proof of your citizenship is not verified. However, you sign the form under penalty of perjury, which means you could face criminal prosecution if you provided false information on your voter registration documents.

Challenges of Maintaining Accurate Voter Lists

The vast majority of individuals that move notify their banks, car lenders, family and friends – even magazine subscriptions before they change their voter registration. During the past few years we have focused on making improvements to the process of maintaining our voter registration list.  Unique to Orange County is our use of additional data from secure, highly reliable sources – allowing us to notify voters and update their records – long before they think about notifying us. This keeps us on the cutting edge of making sure the voter list is as accurate as possible – even if voters do not notify us of their movements. Because of these efforts we have one of the most accurate lists in the country.

It is important to note that despite these innovative efforts we continue to “chase” down voter addresses as opposed to voters proactively notifying our office.

Detailed Information on Our Innovative List Maintenance

Since 2006 we have made improvements to the process of the maintenance of the voter registration list. The use of secure third-party data improves our ability to find voters who have possibly moved. The advantage of this data is that it uses nationwide data, and can catch people not caught by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), National Change of Address (NCOA), and Secretary of State updates.

Prior to utilizing this one-of-a-kind method in elections we conducted a detailed test of the data. In our test mailing, we had a better response from the voters who had been provided an address through secure third-party data than we had from mailing to voters using their address on the voter registration list. We also found a large group of voters who had not voted in at least eight elections moved between three and eight times in just a few years.

Additional Proactive Efforts to Keep Our Voter List Accurate

No more than 90 days before a major election, we update our voter records using National Change of Address (NCOA) records. The entire voter list is compared to the National Change of Address database, and voters’ addresses are updated accordingly. This includes voters who have moved within Orange County, as well as outside of Orange County. A postcard is sent to each affected voter for verification. This process will typically update over 30,000 voter records. This data is only useful if the voter fills out a change of address card through the post office.

Returned Mail

Undeliverable mail, such as vote-by-mail ballots, is used to update the voter registration database. If a new address is provided, our database is updated accordingly, and a postcard is sent to the new address in an attempt to contact the voter.

Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Records

Address updates are provided daily by the DMV, and immediately applied by our office. Please note that the voter must be a registered voter in Orange County for DMV changes to apply.

Voters Moving Out of Orange County

Our office is notified by the Secretary of State’s office of voters who have re-registered in other counties. These registrations are cancelled by our office upon notification. We are also notified directly by other counties if a voter has re-registered.

Deceased Voters

We are increasing our efforts with canceling deceased voters. In addition to the records provided by the Orange County Health Care Agency (HCA) and the Secretary of State, we also check local obituaries on a daily basis. In addition we research the death record of a voter if someone notifies our office, even if it is simply by phone or email. We utilize the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) to conduct this research, and HCA works with our office to verify deceased individuals. Unique to Orange County we also use third-party data that compares a list of voters on our database to the SSDI. The unique advantage of this service is that it uses nationwide and historical data. The nationwide data component is something that has been missing in the past. During our launch of this service we canceled nearly 1,100 additional voters using this process, most of which were not caught using the other processes.

I’m very, very interested in abuses that sound a bit like this occurring in the South, the Midwest, and other areas.  But this seems … reasonable.  And just as reasonable seems to be a concerted effort from people outside of county government to contact people on the list and ask them to “reactivate” themselves.

How?  Write this down — you may need it:

The site also has a good explanation of what an inactive voter really is — and what perils may follow one’s falling into inactive voter status.

What Are Inactive Voters?

Inactive voters are registered voters and are eligible to vote; however, they do not receive election related mail such as sample ballots and vote-by-mail ballots. In accordance with State Law, voters may be moved to an inactive status for one of the following reasons:

  • Our office receives mail returned from the voter’s address that is not deliverable.
  • The voter does not participate in any election in the previous four years, and has not updated or confirmed their voter record.

An inactive voter may restore their active voter status by simply voting in an election, contacting our office directly to confirm their address, or by going to and completing the process online.

Inactive voters may be removed from the voter registration list if they do not confirm or update their registration, and if they do not vote in two consecutive federal elections after they are made inactive.

That last part in orange explains what the stakes are.  They don’t actually crop up right now; it’s the failure to act affirmatively so as to take oneself off of active status that eventually knocks one off of the rolls.  And so that’s why we could be seeing a huge shift in the voter registration numbers a few years from now based on this development — unless people who are still eligible to vote contact the office of the Registrar of Voters and let it know that they should be reactivated.

How easy is it to do this?  Gee — I know that I had that information around here somewhere….

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)