Illegal Voter Purges May Affect Presidential Election

Cross-posted at Project Vote's Voting Matters Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

In 2000, Florida's disastrous effort to purge former felons from voter rolls resulted in the disenfranchisement of hundreds if not thousands of legitimate voters and clearly influenced the outcome of the presidential contest in that state. History may repeat itself this November with states taking potentially reckless and unlawful measures to clean voter rolls before Election Day.

Voter purges are one of several problems in the administration of elections that could not only bar legal voters from the polls, but could potentially influence the outcome of close races. Project Vote is monitoring this practice across the United States and sees what could be an alarming trend of illegal purging emerging. The New York Times and Mississippi's Clarion Ledger both reported on voter purging problems in the South this week.

Keeping accurate and current voter rolls is an important legal mandate for election officials. Under the National Voter Registration Act, states are required to contact voters directly through forwardable mail. If the voter does not respond, the state must wait two federal elections before removing the voter from the rolls. However, many states have begun to compare their voter rolls with those of neighboring states and pro-actively canceling a voter's registration based on a positive "match" rather than following the list maintenance procedures of NVRA.

Project Vote has recently expressed concern to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne over the state's method of removing voters from rolls, as reported in the Times on Tuesday. Project Vote has learned that Louisiana compares voter lists with other jurisdictions, purging voters solely upon apparent database matches of first name, last name and birth date. With millions of people living in a multi-state region, it is not uncommon to find more than one John Smith born on the same day.  Additionally, the possibility of human and typographical error that occur in all large databases creates a greater risk of unjustified disenfranchisement.

"A spokesman for Louisiana's secretary of state said that all voters found to have duplicate registrations were sent at least one warning letter and sometimes two, but that the last such actions were done some 13 months ago," the Times reported.

"'We're specifically not doing it right in front of an election,'" said Dardenne's spokesman.
Election officials in Madison County, Miss. have recently decided to forgo a potentially illegal mass mailing process as part of their effort to purge the county's voter rolls after the U.S. Justice Department and others warned against it, according the Clarion Ledger Tuesday. Last week, Project Vote sent a letter to the elections commission out of concern that their mass mailing plan violated the Voting Rights Act.

"They are doing something that is understandable when you have a voter roll that appears to be out of proportion," said voting rights lawyers who works with Project Vote, Estelle Rogers. "But there are a lot of Ps and Qs that must be followed."

County supervisor Karl Banks repeatedly voted against the mass mailing, saying that "his understanding of the law was that commissioners needed a reason to believe that a voter's information may not be accurate." He argued that in this presidential election year, the commission should focus on making sure elections run smoothly, such as informing people of their correct precinct.

"The mildest things confuse people and can ultimately disenfranchise people during elections...Here we are wanting to disenfranchise people because they don't send a card back?"

The emerging trend of state compacts to compare voter databases and engage in aggressive efforts to purge their voter rolls is troubling for both its opacity - the public is not informed of the criteria for being purged nor are purged voters offered the chance to remedy the situation - and its reliance on strict matching criteria. Large databases are riddled with errors, therefore the sole reliance on exact matches virtually guarantees that legal voters will be knocked off the rolls and denied the right to vote.
The Florida example from 2000 should be instructive on on how these practices could affect the outcome of closely contested races on Election Day.

Quick Links:

Contact:

Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne

Madison County (Miss.) Board of Supervisors

Reports:

"Maintaining Current and Accurate Voters Lists." Project Vote. Dec. 22, 2006.

"A Summary of the National Voter Registration Act."Project Vote.

"A Summary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965." Project Vote.

In Other News:

Federal judge weighs challenge to AZ voter id law - Tucson Citizen [Ariz.]
PHOENIX (AP) -- A federal judge is weighing a challenge to Arizona requirements for voter identification and proof of citizenship for registering to vote.

County voter drive blocked: Fewer New Citizens Registered After US Agency Changes Rule - Mercury News [Ca.]
It was a procedure that produced a bumper crop of new voters: Just before Santa Clara County immigrants were sworn in as U.S. citizens, they got voter-registration cards and were shown how to fill them out. At the conclusion of the naturalization ceremony, most new citizens had signed the cards and handed them in to become registered voters.

State Says It May Sue VA - Associated Press
Connecticut officials say the state might sue the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs if it continues to block efforts to educate and register voters in federal veterans' facilities.

Voter-sign-up drive targets 16-year olds - Miami Herald
Voter registration for next month's primary election will end Monday, and the push now is aimed at teens who are too young to cast a ballot

Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).

Tags: citizenship, disenfranchisement, election integrity, list maintenance, Louisiana, Mississippi, National Voter Registration Act, Project Vote, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, voter id, voter registration, voter rolls, Voting Rights, Voting Rights Act, Youth Voting (all tags)

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