Moved out, Moved On: Assessing the Effectiveness of Voter Registration List Maintenance

40 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2017 Last revised: 9 Jan 2024

See all articles by Stephen Pettigrew

Stephen Pettigrew

University of Pennsylvania

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Date Written: January 5, 2024

Abstract

The quality of voter registration lists has been at the center of debates about election administration in the United States for over a decade. Lists with excessive numbers of ineligible registrants, whether due to death, mobility, or other reasons, complicate the logistical task of running elections, and are an easy target for those concerned with electoral integrity or voter fraud. This paper seeks to answer two questions regarding the accuracy of voter lists. First, how well do the registration cancellation rates line up with the rates we would expect to see given demographic patterns? Second, when in an electoral cycle should we expect that voter lists will be the most reflective of the population of registered and eligible voters? Using administrative and demographic data over six two-year election cycles, we find strong evidence that voter lists are largely absent of deceased registrants and that election officials have gotten better at removing deceased registrants over time. The data also suggest that election officials have a much more difficult time removing registration records of those who have moved out of the jurisdiction. We supplement these findings with data from Florida and Virginia which allow us to explore temporal variation in removal rates. We find that the states employ two different paradigms for registration list cleaning, which illustrates one reason why users of voter files should be careful in drawing inferences from any particular slice of voter file data.

Suggested Citation

Pettigrew, Stephen and Stewart III, Charles, Moved out, Moved On: Assessing the Effectiveness of Voter Registration List Maintenance (January 5, 2024). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2018-1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3044810 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3044810

Stephen Pettigrew

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Charles Stewart III (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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