Voter purge Bartholomew County sees 12% decrease

The number of registered voters in Bartholomew County has dropped by 12 percent.

The names of 6,635 former voters who have died, moved away or simply don’t vote were removed through a voter-list purge conducted by the Indiana Voter List Maintenance Program, Bartholomew County Clerk Jay Phelps said.

In most cases, those names should have been taken off years ago, he said.

After seeing the total number of registered voters reduced from 55,672 to 49,037, the county clerk said he was taken by surprise.

“We really weren’t anticipating this large of a purge,” Phelps said. “The registered voter numbers have not been this low in the Columbus area since 2002.”

As part of a project initiated in 2014 by Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Phelps’ staff used returned voter registration acknowledgement cards marked as undeliverable for much of the purge, the clerk said.

Once the voter registration office receives two undeliverable mailings, the voter is marked as inactive and removed from the list if he or she doesn’t vote within two federal general elections, Phelps said.

But if the registration is updated or the person votes in an election, that voter is returned to active status, Phelps said.

Although names marked for the purge have been collected for four years, federal law prohibited their removal until after the 2016 presidential election, Lawson said.

Voter list maintenance is done to some extent every two years, Phelps said.

The most interesting thing the purge revealed is that a greater percentage of local residents cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election than was previously reported, Phelps said.

Had the purge been done before the November election, Bartholomew County’s turnout would have been about 68 percent, Phelps said, compared to 60 percent reported immediately after voting ended.

Although Phelps finds that level of participation commendable, it remains lower than the record turnout set in 1960, when 79 percent of Bartholomew County’s registered voters cast ballots. That year, Democrat John Kennedy defeated Republican Richard Nixon for president.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.