BLOUNTVILLE — About 10,000 of Sullivan County’s nearly 83,000 registered voters are listed as “inactive” by the Sullivan County Elections Office.
And that list could be about to swell by several thousand more voters, Administrator of Elections Gena Frye said last week.
“We’re in the process of conducting list maintenance,” Frye said. “What that means is, we use several methods to update our records and make sure we have the most recent information on voters.”
Just finished: a cross-check of registered voters’ addresses with the national change of address database maintained by the U.S. Postal Service.
Registered voters who showed up on the list as having changed their address with the post office — there were about 4,000 — will be sent an address verification notice from the election office.
If they return the cards, their registration will be updated, if need be, and remain active.
The notification cards being mailed out are yellow. Voters who receive one simply fill it out and drop it back in the mail — it’s postage paid.
If the election office doesn’t get a response or the notice is returned as undeliverable, the voter will be added to the inactive list.
Voters who remain on the inactive list for two federal election cycles will be purged from the county’s registered voters roll.
In addition, election office staff recently sent notices to another 2,000 or so registered voters who had not cast a ballot in several years.
Frye said there’s nothing new about the local effort to maintain up-to-date information on voters, and odd-numbered years are usually a good time to do so.
And with presidential primaries looming on the horizon in just a few months, election officials want to do as much as possible to avoid any potential delays at the polls.
Early voting for party primaries gets under way in Tennessee in January. The general election in November of next year, when Americans will elect the nation’s next president, is expected to draw a heavy turnout, Frye said.
“We’ve been doing this for a while, but right now the state is pushing more and more for counties to keep up with their list maintenance,” Frye said. “It’s a pretty big process. We’ve gone about it rather aggressively. We just want to make sure they’re still at the address. A voter can go years without voting and maintain their registration. You can stay active and never vote, as long as you respond to these mailings.”
Some counties have mailed a verification card to every registered voter on their rolls, Frye said.
That would be cost-prohibitive for Sullivan County, Frye said.
“We’re just trying to get the word out there,” Frye said. “If they’ll just take a few minutes and fill the card out and mail it back to us, it’ll make it a lot easier for them to vote next year.”
If voters listed as “inactive” show up at the polls, they still may be able to cast a ballot. But it’ll require them to go through a process to verify their address — and if they’re at the wrong polling place, they’ll have to go to the correct one to cast their ballot.
And that can delay the voting process.
Voters placed on the inactive list during this go around, who don’t vote or verify their information with the county’s election office, will be purged from the county’s voter list in January 2011.