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The Voter Purge Project began as a collaboration between a database expert in a battleground state and national political organizing groups.

How volunteers data sleuths prevented the wrongful purge of 40,000 voters from Ohio voter rolls

The state of Ohio had planned to purge over 235,000 voters from its rolls in the Fall of 2019, on the basis that those voters had moved, died, or were duplicates. In a step toward transparency, that summer the Secretary of State sent an enormous spreadsheet with the names, last known addresses, and state voter ID number of those 235,000 Ohio voters to voter advocacy groups to examine.

The result: those advocacy groups found that around 40,000 people, nearly 1 in 5 names on the purge list, shouldn’t have been on it.

In addition, the list included around 20,000 people due to inactivity in the last several years, but who were actually active voters in previous Ohio elections. These voters were concentrated in Franklin County, a Democratic stronghold in the state.

The first volunteer data sleuth to discover errors in the list was Steve Tingley-Hock, founder of the Ohio Voter Project and author of the Voter Purge Project’s data cleaning and analysis methodology. The New York Times reported in October of 2019:

How Mr. Tingley-Hock, a volunteer who doesn’t work for the government, chanced upon such a big mistake shows the kind of unusual backstop the state now depends on to carry out its work correctly.

A database consultant by trade, Mr. Tingley-Hock in recent years developed a hobby of spending his weekends downloading the state’s voter data onto his own laptop where he manages a database that keeps track of every voter in Ohio.

“Someone needed to keep a record of what’s happening in the voter population,” said Mr. Tingley-Hock, who thinks the purges are targeting certain demographic groups, especially young voters.

Tingley-Hock ran the Secretary of State’s spreadsheet through his own database – described in the methodology section above – and found that thousands of the names matched those of active voters.

Not long after the revelations of improper voter purging in Ohio, Tingley-Hock connected with Wade Rathke, a more than 50-year veteran of community, labor, and electoral organizing, and they agreed to the resources and reach of the American Voter Project, ACORN International, a 200,000 member organization working in fifteen countries, and the Labor Neighbor Research & Training Project, all 501c3 organizations to jointly support the creation of the Voter Purge Project.

The Voter Purge Project would combine data mining and analysis with organizing and advocacy to guarantee the right to vote in upcoming elections.