If your time is short:
- An elections watchdog group Elections Integrity Project California falsely claimed that the Golden State has 1.8 million ineligible registered voters.
- In order to determine the total number of ineligible registered voters, the EIPCa combined the total number of active and inactive voter registrations
- But California elections experts say it was fundamentally flawed and inaccurate to combine those two groups in order to determine the total number of people registered to vote.
- When you compare the total number of active voters to the total number of eligible voters, there is no excess of active voters at the state or county level.
A false claim is circulating online that California has 1.8 million ineligible registered voters.
The California Globe, a conservative news outlet, published a story in June citing a report by the Election Integrity Project California, a watchdog group that scrutinizes voter registration records. The article has been viewed more than 60,000 times on Facebook since it was posted earlier this summer.
The EIPCa claims that they found “1,834,789 more registered voters than eligible citizens” throughout 23 of the Golden State’s 58 counties, which they called “an indication of increasingly poor list maintenance.”
The group highlighted several counties where they claim to have found an “astoundingly high number of ineligible registrants,” including Sacramento, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange, and Alpine counties.
Former State Congressional Candidate Chris Bish tweeted a screenshot of the EIPCa’s letter in July, repeating and proliferating the claim that Sacramento County had more than 37,000 ineligible voters registered.
Bish’s claim has already been debunked by local fact-checkers and election experts say the same about the EIPCa’s false claims, too.
Facebook flagged the California Globe article as part of its efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact California’s partnership with Facebook.) We’ve fact-checked other misleading and erroneous claims made by the ElP in the past, and decided to check out if this claim had any teeth to it.
In June, EIPCa president Linda Paine sent a letter to the California Secretary of State’s office alleging that the group found more than 1.8 million ineligible voting registrants in California.
The EIPCa determined the total number of eligible citizens per country based on census estimates listed on the Secretary of State’s website as of October 19, 2020. In order to determine the total number of ineligible registered voters, the EIPCa “compared the total number of voter registrations (Active plus Inactive) to the number of eligible citizens as listed on the Secretary of State website.”
By this metric the EIPCa determined that 23 of 58 counties in California have more registered voters than citizens eligible to vote, with a total of 1,834,789 ineligible registered voters statewide. The California Globe article flagged San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange, and Alpine counties as having “an astoundingly high number of ineligible registrants.”
All of the experts we spoke to said that this allegation by the EIPCa is deceptive and relies on misguided and flawed data analysis.
Registrar of Voters for Orange County Neal Kelley said that the data used by the EIPCa was out of date, even at the time that the EIPCa wrote the letter to the Secretary of State.
“We can tell by some of the data they're presenting that it looks like their data was about three months old,” Kelley said. “It does not include same day voter registration, it doesn't include the ebb and flow of voter databases where you have minute-by-minute updates to it.”
According to the EIPCa’s letter, they obtained their data on February 9, 2021. But voter registration data is constantly being updated by people at the county and state levels, according to Kelley and other registrars we spoke to across the state.
According to county voter participation statistics compiled by the Secretary of State, there were 25,090,517 Californias who were eligible to vote in the 2020 Presidential election. Of that group, there were 22,047,448 individuals registered to vote — just under 88% of folks who are eligible to vote.
The Secretary of State’s office only counts active voters when tallying up the total number of registered voters per county. Experts say that it is inaccurate to add up active and inactive registered voters, as the EIPCa has done, in order to determine the total number of voters participating in elections.
“Voters will be given an ‘inactive’ status when a county elections official receives information (for example, from the post office) indicating the voter has moved out of state or mail is returned undeliverable without a forwarding address,” according to the Secretary of State’s website.
According to experts, including inactive voters inflates the amount of registered voters because some of these inactive voters have moved, have passed away, or haven’t voted in multiple elections.
“They're concluding that there are more registered voters than eligible voters when it's flawed to include inactive voters in that data. You can't do that,” Kelley said. “That's just like basic election 101. You can do that any day of the week and come up with inflated numbers. But what they need to only look at are the active registrations."
The Orange County Registrar of Voters’ website states that “inactive voters are registered voters and are eligible to vote; however, they do not receive election related mail such as sample ballots and vote-by-mail ballots.”
In California, voters must be inactive for a certain period of time in order for their name to be purged from the county’s voter roll, as per the rules stipulated by the National Voter Registration Act. As a result, there are a number of inactive voters on county voter rolls which could make it appear as if there is a greater number of registered voters than people who are eligible to vote.
Jenna Dresner, a spokesperson for California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, explained that there are a few processes specific to California that make it more difficult for folks to be removed from voter rolls when they are inactive.
The National Voter Registration Act “outlines vote list maintenance processes designed to protect voters from illegal purges from the voter rolls,” Dresner wrote in an emailed statement. “Specifically, the NVRA prohibits removing persons from the voter registration list solely because of a failure to vote and also places restrictions related to the notice and timing on removals from the voter rolls based on a change of residence.”
Instead of removing people from voter rolls due to inactivity, those voters are instead designated as “inactive.” Those voters do not receive election materials or mail-in ballots. In order to reactivate their voter registration, people need to formally contact election officials. If an inactive voter shows up to the polls to vote and they are on the county’s list of inactive registered voters, they may cast a provisional ballot.
Sacramento County currently has about 200,000 inactive registered voters, according to Courtney Bailey, Registrar of Voters for Sacramento County.
“Yes, if you add the active and inactive together, it does exceed our estimated population count,” Bailey said. “But the fact of the matter is, a lot of those voters haven't voted in two general elections.”
In their June letter, the EIPCa remarked that the difference between the total registered and eligible voters in California was an indication of poor list maintenance. However, experts on California elections say that is not the case.
Dresner said that the EIPCa’s claims “recklessly and inaccurately claim that inactive voters are ineligible,” adding that “these types of claims unnecessarily erode public confidence in the integrity of our elections.”
“We are going above and beyond what's required in federal and state [law],” Kelley said. “We're doing extra audits. We're doing partnerships with the likes of Cal Tech University [The California Institute of Technology], doing third party audits. We're doing all of these things that people just don't take the time to learn about.”
Last March, the EIPCa filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Secretary of State, and nine county registrar of voters over these findings and other claims regarding “irregularities in California’s 2020 Election.”
However, federal Judge Andre Birotte dismissed the lawsuit last June, writing that the lawsuit amounted to “an incremental undermining of confidence in the election results, past and future.”
All of the voting experts we spoke to mentioned this lawsuit when discussing the validity of the data and claims put forth by the EIPCa.
“This is the same group, by the way, that sued nine of us counties and the Secretary of State to attempt to overturn the November election results using some of the same data that they shot out in the letter,” Kelley said. “The federal court a few weeks ago dismissed the entire case and gave them a stinging rebuke.”
Mike Sanchez, the spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, added in an email, “the allegations made by the Election Integrity Project are unfounded and aim to undermine the confidence in the November 2020 General Election results.”.
In June, Election Integrity Project California president Linda Paine sent a letter to the California Secretary of State’s office alleging that the group found more than 1.8 million ineligible voting registrants in California.
The EIPCa combined the number of active and inactive voters on California county voter rolls in order to determine the total number of registered voters in the state. The group then compared that number of total voters to census data showing the total pool of people eligible to vote county by county. By this metric, the EIPCa claimed to have found that there are a significantly greater number of registered voters than there are people eligible to vote in California.
However, California elections experts said that it was misleading and inaccurate to combine the numbers of active and inactive voters on voting rolls in order to determine the amount of people voting in elections throughout the state like the EIPCa has. That’s because inactive voters are not participating in elections or receiving election materials.
The Secretary of State data only counts the amount of active registered voters in their count of individuals registered to vote. According to their county voter participation statistics, there were 25,090,517 Californians who were eligible to vote in the 2020 Presidential election. Of that group, there were 22,047,448 individuals registered to vote — just under 88% of folks who are eligible to vote statewide.
In California, voters must be inactive for a certain period of time in order for their name to be purged from the county’s voter roll, as per the rules stipulated by the National Voter Registration Act. As a result, there are a number of inactive voters on county voter rolls which could make it appear as if there is a greater number of registered voters than people who are eligible to vote. Inactive voters do not receive election materials or mail in ballots, and must follow state protocol in order to start receiving those materials again and participate in elections.
We rated the claim that there are 1.8 million ineligible registered voters in California Pants on Fire.
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Wade, Madison. “No, there are not more people registered to vote than eligible voters in Sacramento County.” ABC10. 14 July 2021.
Weber, Shirley. “Chapter 4: Voter Registration Applications and Voter List Maintenance.” California Secretary of State. Accessed 13 Sept 2021.
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