33,000 North Country Voters Knocked Off Active Rolls

UPDATE:  The voters made ‘inactive’ on Oswego County’s voter registration rolls have had their statuses changed at some point over the last four years, not all at once. See end of story for details.

A statewide voting rights watchdog says more than 1.6 million New York State registered voters — about one in every seven — have been removed from voting rolls or had their status set to inactive in advance of the 2008 elections. The sweeping change includes approximately 33,000 registered voters in Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties.

Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, said on his blog Tuesday that he analyzed the state’s database of registered voters and determined that more than 400,000 registered voters had their registrations eliminated because they had been shown to have moved, died, been sent to prison or for other reasons. But another 1.2 million registered voters had their statuses set to “inactive”, mostly because the registered voters did not respond to a letter sent to their homes telling them that they had to reply to the letter to keep their active status.

According to Lipari, those whose registration statuses have been changed to purged or inactive will not be in the poll books that each voter signs at their local polling place. This story was written after the closing of local offices Tuesday, so it’s not immediately clear how local polls will handle objections from voters who believe they are legally registered. It is possible voters will be allowed to fill out a provisional ballot, which will record their vote but which will require verification in order to be counted.

“There’s no way to know for sure how many of these have been incorrectly removed from ‘Active’ status,” Lipari said on his blog. “But I’ll wager that a significant number of these records are actually legally registered voters who should be allowed to vote on Election Day, but won’t be.”

Lipari produced spreadsheets breaking down numbers county by county. For the North Country, he reports:

  • Jefferson County: 65,494 total records; 3,155 records purged, representing 4.82% of the total number of records; 7,481 records set to inactive, representing 11.42% of the total numbers of records.
  • Lewis County: 18,710 total records; 1,345 records purged, representing 7.19% of the total number of records; 567 records set to inactive, representing 3.03% of the total numbers of records.
  • Oswego County: 86,379 total records; 4,837 records purged, representing 5.60% of the total number of records; 7,658 records set to inactive, representing 8.87% of the total numbers of records.
  • St. Lawrence County: 67,089 total records; 2,562 records purged, representing 3.82% of the total number of records; 5,377 records set to inactive, representing 8.01% of the total numbers of records.

According to Lipari’s data, (spreadsheets here, and here) Lewis County recorded the fifth highest rate of records purged. All four counties were well above the state average, which was heavily weighted down by a low rate of purges in the counties of New York City, Long Island and Orange and Rockland counties.

Lewis County had the lowest rate in the state of records set to ‘inactive’ status. Only Jefferson County’s rate was above the state average for inactives.


Don Wart, the Republican Commissioner of Elections for Oswego County, tells us that the county verifies a person’s voting status by sending postcards to every registered voter.  If the postcard is returned to the Board of Elections because it could not be delivered, that voter’s status is set to ‘inactive’.  The county does not require voters to respond to the postcards in order to keep an active registration status, as is being done in the boroughs of New York City.

Wart said that if a voter’s status remains ‘inactive’ for two federal elections (meaning, for four years), that voter’s status will be changed to ‘purged’.

Any voter whose status has been challenged can file a provisional ballot at the polling place, Wart said.  He said the office processes several hundreds such ballots each year.  Additionally, a voter can go before a judge on Election Day to offer proof of proper registration to be allowed to vote.

Our interview with Don Wart is below, in mp3 format.

Interview with Republican Elections Commissioner Donald Wart


  1. Hmmm…so I guess this leads to the question of how does one go about finding out ahead of time if they have “been purged” or designated “inactive”?

    My recollection (which could be very wrong!) when receiving one of the mailed notices is that it states something to the effect, if you receive this you need to do nothing. I never thought about what if I didn’t receive this or how would I know I didn’t receive it?

    Does anyone have any advice or answers? I guess I’ll find out when I “try” to vote!

    [Henry (and everyone else): You can check your registration status here:


    I came across this resource after the story was written. It will check your name against the state registration database.

    If you haven’t moved and wind up inactive or purged, let us know here in the comments.

    -Dave Bullard/Managing Editor]

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