Battles rage over new voters
Legal disputes loom as the political parties spar over voter lists, new registrations.
(Page 2 of 2)
To some extent, such challenges and disputes are now a standard part of elections. But concerns have escalated this year because of high numbers of first-time registrants, expectations for high turnout, and tight races in numerous states.Skip to next paragraph
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Moreover, the Help America Vote Act, passed in part to address concerns after the 2000 Florida debacle, requires states to have statewide voter databases, which some are only now getting in place.
“At the same time the system is under stress, it’s also changing quite a bit,” says Doug Chapin of electionline.org, a project of the Pew Center on the States. On Election Day, Mr. Chapin says, he’ll be watching Florida, Ohio, and Colorado, swing states where disputes are already brewing. In Florida, many counties have new voting equipment along with the “no match, no vote” law, and in Ohio, concerns abound about absentee balloting, long lines, and techniques being used to get voters off the rolls. Colorado, among the last to get its database working, had problems in 2006 with its database and with new voting centers open to voters from any precinct.
As voter advocacy groups worry about disenfranchisement, many Republicans cite voter-fraud concerns, pointing to several convictions this year of registration workers submitting phony forms. The reality, says Chapin, is that little data support the notion that voter fraud occurs, just as little data support the notion that widespread disenfranchisement exists. “Each side has its tenets of faith and [they] end up talking past each other,” he says.
One challenge for states is how to keep voter-registration rolls up-to-date without inadvertently purging legitimate voters from the lists.
“You have to have proper checks and balances,” says Pedro Cortes, secretary of state in Pennsylvania and president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “You want to make sure voter registration records aren’t clogged with voters who are no longer there, but at the same time we need to recognize the preeminent right to vote.”
Secretary Cortes says he tends to err on the side of leaving an inactive voter who is potentially no longer on the rolls, rather than purge a legitimate voter, but vote watchers say many states purge the rolls using little care.
A new study from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law found multiple problems with how purges are done. It cited reliance on error-ridden lists, secret purges, lack of voter notification, and use of bad “matching criteria” to mistakenly eliminate voters who have similar identifying data but are in fact two different people.