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Think you’re registered to vote? You should check

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Same-day voter registration at issue in Illinois lawsuit

In this March 18, 2014 file photo, voters cast their ballots in the Illinois primary in Hinsdale. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Do you know your voter registration status?

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Ohio law that allows election officials to purge voters from the rolls if those voters failed to respond to a postcard asking residents to confirm their addresses, and did not vote in two consecutive general elections.

Conservatives applauded the ruling. They claim such laws support voting integrity. But opponents counter that voter fraud is, in fact, vanishingly rare. Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed to historical forms of voter suppression and worried that Ohio’s law is merely a tool for disenfranchising minority voters.

Whatever the true intent, changes in voting law and procedures inevitably confuse citizens — a fact that could affect this year’s midterm elections.

Missouri, like Ohio, allows county Boards of Elections to verify voter residences and registrations by sending a prepaid, non-forwardable postcard. In some instances, the state also will ask local elections officials to canvass to confirm registered voters. This occurs periodically, usually every two years.

If the postcard is not returned, or if the board receives a “return to mailer,” the board then sends a Resident Confirmation Notice that is forwardable to the voter’s new address. If the confirmation notice is not returned within 30 days, then the board determines that the voter “cannot be verified.” Such voters then may be placed on an “inactive voter” list.

It is important to note that voters on the “inactive” list are still registered voters. However, if, while “inactive,” they fail to vote in two consecutive general elections (four years), their voter registration may be deleted.

The issue is further complicated by differing interpretations of Missouri’s election statutes and election authorities. Timelines and procedures can vary from county to county.

The simplest method for checking your voter registration status is to visit the Board of Elections website. If you are on the inactive voter list, don’t worry: You can still vote! Just bring proof of your address to your polling station. You’ll need to fill out some additional paperwork, but you will be able to cast a ballot.

In the meantime, if you are unable to determine your status or have moved, your best option is simply to submit a new application. Your application must be postmarked by the fourth Wednesday preceding an election to be eligible to vote in that election.

For this year’s midterms, the deadline is Oct. 10. You can register through your county board of election office or local public library. Washington University’s Center for Social Development also has launched an online registration portal, at csd.turbovote.org.

Voting is both a right and a responsibility. Citizens should always be aware of local and national issues. But today, with harsh voter-ID laws and other restrictions being enacted around the country, citizens also must take care to know their voting status and to track down correct information about their voting precinct.

All of us should advocate for equitable and transparent laws. All of us should have our voices heard. The first step is ensuring that you are registered to vote.

Gena Gunn McClendon is adjunct professor and the director of the Voter Access and Engagement initiative at the Center for Social Development in the Brown School at Washington University. Jessica Bernacchi is a graduate research assistant in the Brown School.

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