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A very important element of voter data is information about the status of the voter. Voter status generally falls into two categories: Active and Inactive. At a high level, Active voters are ones whose record is in good standing with no known issues and can freely cast a ballot in any election they are eligible for. Inactive status generally applies to a voter who has an issue with their record and can still vote, but in order to do so they need to update some piece of their information before doing so.

These statuses are derived from applying the provisions outlined in the National Voting Rights Act. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter” law, provides the framework for the mission of the Voter Reference Foundation. While much of the NVRA focuses on facilitating voter registration, it also includes very important provisions regarding the maintenance of voter rolls and mandates the public inspection of voter rolls.

In regard to NVRA guidelines for maintaining accurate voter registration lists, the law outlines specific procedures and criteria for removing voters from the rolls, including the process for moving a voter from active to inactive status.

Here’s an overview of how the NVRA allowed voter removal and status changes are typically applied by states:

  1. Address Confirmation Notices: Under the NVRA, if a voter’s mail is returned as undeliverable or if the voter fails to respond to a notice from their election official within a specified timeframe, that voter becomes eligible for removal after not voting for two general elections. In most states where a voter is in an Inactive status, this process began with an address confirmation.
  2. Failure to Vote: While the NVRA prohibits states from removing voters solely for failure to vote, it does allow for the use of voter inactivity as a factor in determining eligibility. Some states may move voters to inactive status if they have not participated in elections within a specific time period.
  3. Reactivation Procedures: As mentioned above, voters placed in inactive status are still registered, but their status indicates that there may be an issue with their registration information. To reactivate their status and become eligible to vote, inactive voters typically need to update their registration information or confirm their eligibility in some way, such as by casting a ballot on election day or confirming their address through the process designated by their election official.
  4. Removal for Ineligibility: The NVRA also allows for the removal of voters from the rolls due to felony convictions, mental incapacitation, or death. The NVRA in practice also allows for the removal of voters if, after having their status set to inactive for a designated period of time, they have not made the necessary changes to regain their active status.

Overall, the NVRA provides a framework for maintaining accurate and up-to-date voter registration lists while safeguarding the rights of eligible voters. The process for moving voters from active to inactive status, as outlined by the NVRA, helps ensure that voter rolls reflect the most current and accurate information available, promoting the integrity of the electoral process.

Getting back to voter data analysis, the distinction between active and inactive voter status holds profound importance. While both categories represent individuals registered to vote, their classification can yield invaluable insights into electoral behavior, participation trends, and the overall health of the voter rolls.

Active voters constitute the cornerstone of electoral engagement. These individuals have demonstrated consistent involvement in the process by regularly casting their ballots in elections. Their status reflects a commitment to civic duty, shaping policies, and electing representatives who align with their values and beliefs.

Analyzing data pertaining to active voters offers crucial information for political campaigns, policymakers, and researchers. It provides a snapshot of voter turnout, indicating the level of enthusiasm and interest within a particular constituency. Moreover, understanding the demographics, preferences, and behaviors of active voters enables targeted outreach efforts, tailored messaging, and effective mobilization strategies during election cycles.

In contrast, inactive voters represent a segment of the electorate whose participation has waned over time or moved out of the area they are registered to vote in. Examining data related to inactive voters unveils critical insights into areas for improvement within the electoral infrastructure. Analyzing inactive voters over time allows one to verify that proper list maintenance is being done, and that the voter rolls remain current and accurate.

In addition to Active and Inactive, many states have additional status assignments for voters, they can include canceled or purged, which would refer to a record that has been removed from the voter rolls, or they may have voters in a suspended status which would apply to registrants who have submitted a voter registration application that has not yet been approved. Voters in these statuses provide great insight when performing analysis of the voter rolls, as canceled records specifically can retain vote credit information, allowing a researcher to look back in time and see how many people voted in a particular election. Unfortunately, most states only provide Active and Inactive records, which hinders the work of researchers and analysts.

Ultimately, the status of a voter—whether active or inactive—serves as more than a mere label in voter databases; it serves as a snapshot of the electorate. Through meticulous analysis of voter data, we gain insights into the dynamics shaping our political landscape, allowing us to observe voter list maintenance over time and develop strategies for maintaining accurate voter lists across the country.