Are you on the list? Come Nov. 4, voter rolls in several key states may rival the exclusivity of a Hollywood party. Some states have taken the initiative to remove supposedly ineligible voters from their electronic registration databases and, as a federal judge in Detroit ruled yesterday, have even used illegal means to do so. These sweeping purges of registration records so close to the election will only serve to distress an already frustrated constituency.

In accordance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, states must create electronic voter registration lists to consolidate data on eligible voters. This system also purges data of voters rendered ineligible by address changes or death. However, a damaging consequence of HAVA has been states’ mishandling of these files, resulting in the disenfranchisement of legal voters. Further, the vast majority of these wrongfully purged voters has been removed from the rolls without voters’ knowledge, leaving them to find out on Election Day, when it’s too late.

According to The New York Times, vast discrepancies exist between the number of voters purged and the estimated number of voters who should have been purged in six swing states — including Michigan. In August alone, Michigan removed nearly 33,000 voters from its list, a figure that doesn’t match the 4,400 voters who moved out of the state and 7,100 who died. Considering that federal law prohibits purging voter rolls within 90 days of the election except in cases of voter relocation or death, that leaves an alarming difference of about 21,500 ineligible voters without a legal explanation. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land countered by saying that the Times got its numbers wrong.

But what is even more disconcerting to Michigan voters is that even local parties are getting into the disenfranchisement game. The Republican Party of Macomb County, for example, allegedly obtained a list of foreclosure victims with the intention of challenging them at the polls on the grounds that foreclosed homeowners do not have a legal address from which to register. As a foreclosure notice does not constitute a change of address, this argument is not legally sound. But for the Macomb County GOP, this plan would serve its purpose anyway: The ballots offered to voters whose eligibility has been challenged often go uncounted.

Yesterday, a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit landed a blow against such practices, deciding that Michigan may not remove voters from the rolls if their voter identification cards are returned as undeliverable. In addition, the judge decided that the practice of removing voters who apply for driver’s licenses in other states is also illegal, but he also identified another issue of widespread disenfranchisement: the fact that re-checking the eligibility and potentially restoring some 200,000 purged voters is just too daunting a task to tackle.

It is disconcerting that the parties and state officials can bypass the law when cleaning out the voter rolls, and apparently, get away with it so close to Election Day. If the rolls need to be scoured, the time to do so is months before the election, when voters have the opportunity to regain eligibility. HAVA should be amended to reflect that.

In the meantime, voters should fight the urge to resort to cynicism and protect their rights. Voters should bring two forms of identification to the polls instead of the required one to protect against challenges. Also, those who have been registered to vote for more than 30 days can ensure that they haven’t been disenfranchised by checking their voting status at www.michigan.gov/sos.

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