Iowa county auditors use several sources to update voter lists

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert stands by a ballot from the 1950s hanging in his Iowa City office on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert stands by a ballot from the 1950s hanging in his Iowa City office on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

We’re getting more questions these days about how voters are taken off the rolls, and we’re also at the time of year when we work on that.

The law is designed to make it hard to cancel your registration without your knowledge and your signature. We can’t do it over the phone, and we can’t do it based on someone else telling us you moved away. Without a voter’s own signature, most cancellations take several years to complete.


If you have moved and want to be absolutely sure your registration is canceled, contact your county auditor. Here in Johnson County you can send us a letter. You need to sign it, print it, and mail or bring it to our office at 913 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City, IA 52245.

When you register to vote anywhere in the U.S., you’re asked for your previous address. Election offices are required to report your new registration to your old state or community. If we get notice directly from another jurisdiction that you have registered there, we can cancel your registration right away. However, voters often forget to list their old address, or put down the wrong information.


Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (better known as “Motor Voter”), no one’s registration is canceled simply for not voting. Instead, most voter list maintenance is based on the mail. The law tightly regulates when and how mailings are done, and it takes multiple mailings to completely cancel a voter’s registration.

When a card is returned to us as undeliverable, we place the voter on “Inactive” status, a preliminary step to cancellation. Voters stay on inactive status through two general elections before they are completely canceled. Our office just canceled 7075 voters who were placed on Inactive status between the 2012 and 2014 general elections. We were required to mail letters to these voters’ last address; virtually all of these letters have been returned as undeliverable.


Auditors are also required to process address updates annually from the Postal Service’s National Change Of Address. Our office just updated the addresses of 1,489 voters who moved within Johnson County. We also placed 3,164 voters who reported moves outside the county on Inactive status. Cards will be mailed to all these voters within a month.


If voters respond with a signed card confirming their move outside the county, we can cancel them right away. Voters can also make corrections and confirm they still live in Johnson County. Otherwise, the voters who we just made Inactive will be canceled after the 2020 presidential election.


If you have not voted or made a change in your registration in the last four years, we mail you a Four Year No Activity card. If this card is returned to us as undeliverable, we can place you on inactive status and cancel you after the 2020 election. If the post office successfully delivers the card to your address, we have to assume you still live there and simply haven’t wanted to vote.

Many young adults who have moved away still get mail delivered to their parents’ address. If you get a card for someone who has moved away, you can sign the card and say the person no longer lives there, and we can make them Inactive. We can only completely cancel the registration with the voter’s OWN signature, or if we wait through two general elections.


Each year our office receives a list of voters who appear to be registered in two states. We evaluate each record and if the registration is more recent in the other state, we place the voter on Inactive status and send a card. Again, we have to wait through two general elections before we can completely cancel the voter, unless we get confirmation with the voter’s own signature.

Not all states participate in the cross state match program. Most notably for Johnson County, Illinois does not participate.


Our office checks obituaries daily and cancels deceased voters immediately. We also receive monthly updates from the state Department of Health. We can also research death records if we get notice from an immediate family member.


We receive updates on state and federal felony convictions from the Iowa Courts monthly and cancel voters accordingly.


Voter registration and elections are specifically excluded from power of attorney under Iowa law. Unfortunately, if you have an elderly relative who is no longer able to understand or sign their name, we can only cancel their registration if they are judged incompetent by a court. In Johnson County, we have not canceled a voter registration under this provision in at least 40 years.


• Travis Weipert is Johnson County Auditor. More information: (319) 356-6004;



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