Misinformation from Registrar Could Disenfranchise Voters in San Diego

Just two weeks before Election Day, a potentially detrimental (and ultimately unlawful) voter registration procedure was uncovered in San Diego, Calif. that could affect the turnout of thousands of voters. San Diego CityBeat was on the story and contacted Project Vote in hopes of clearing the confusion before November 2.

Until this week, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters wrongfully denied the federal voter registration form that thousands of San Diegans completed after downloading it from the California Secretary of State Web site, including CityBeat reporter and voter hopeful, Dave Maass, who contacted Project Vote director of advocacy, Estelle Rogers, after his voter application was rejected, twice.

In a letter, the county registrar incorrectly informed Maass and others who downloaded the federal voter registration form that they had “not properly completed” their applications, rendering their applications unprocessed due to "missing birth place" on the cards.

However, the state accepts two types of voter registration forms: the California official form, which includes a space for birthplace (and cannot be officially obtained online due to paper standards and pre-paid postage requirements) and the National Mail Voter Registration form, which does not include birthplace information (nor does it have paper or postage regulations). In fact, the California Secretary of State issued an advisory in 2009 that states "Election Officials Do Not Need to Determine Registrant's County of State of Birth," according to CityBeat.

Despite the advisory, CityBeat reports that San Diego County Registrar Deborah Seiler prefers the California form, unofficially links to it on the county Web site, and thus, "her office automatically interprets a correctly filled-out federal registration form as incomplete."

Seiler says the recipients of the letter would still be allowed to vote, even if they do not follow up with more information. But CityBeat notes that this is "not spelled out in the letter. Rather, it says: 'IF THE MISSING INFORMATION IS ON LINE 5, THIS FORM MUST BE RETURNED TO OUR OFFICE BEFORE YOU WILL BE ALLOWED TO VOTE.' The letter then lists ‘birth date’ and ‘place of birth’ as lines 5 and 6, but does not clearly state which is which. (Line 5 is the date of birth, while Line 6 is place of birth.)”

“There are people who get something like this and say, ‘I guess I screwed up, so I won’t bother to vote,’” Rogers told CityBeat. “That’s the problem, especially since the language is so unclear and doesn’t say ‘Go vote!’”

Seiler acknowledged to CityBeat that the letter is confusing and should be rewritten.

“As a minimum, there needs to be a directive from the Secretary of State about how to fix this,” said Rogers. “Also, there should be public-service announcements in the media between now and election day that say, ‘If you got this letter, you are still registered to vote and you should show up at the polls.’”

After hearing this story, Rogers called the deputy Secretary of State, “who had never been told about this before and was pretty alarmed that the county was essentially refusing to accept the federal form--in flagrant violation of federal law.

“Negotiations are ongoing between the Secretary of State's office and San Diego County as to how to remedy the problem, which the county estimates to have affected between 400 and 2000 applicants per month.”

Tags: voter registration, voter suppression, San Diego, California, Project Vote, election day, Misinformation (all tags)

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