Statewide Centralized Voter Registration Databases
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The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has provided to states voluntary guidelines on the creations of statewide-centralized voter registration databases.
- Project Votes' web resource on states and their voter registration rules. May 22, 2007
- EPIC Opposes Georgia Voting ID Requirement. In comments (pdf) to the Department of Justice, EPIC has opposed Georgia's proposal that would require government-issued photo ID to vote in a state or federal election. EPIC said that the Georgia voting photo identification law encroaches on privacy, would discourage voter turnout, and is inconsistent with the federal Help America Vote Act. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Georgia is required to receive Justice Department approval before making any changes to its voting laws. For more information, see EPIC's Voting and Privacy page and the National Committee for Voting Integrity Web site. (July 29, 2005)
- The EAC's a Report on Voter Registration in 2004: The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released a report on the impact of the Voter Registration Act of 1993 on voter registration in 2003-2004. This law is also known as the "Motor Voter Law" requires states to make voter registration available at state agencies such as their Departments of Motor Vehicle.(June 30, 2005)
- EPIC Voting Project Urges Privacy Safeguards for Voter Registration Databases. The National Committee for Voting Integrity has submitted comments to the Election Assistance Commission on the proposed creation of centralized statewide voter registration databases. NCVI said that the registration systems must assure voter privacy by adhering to fair information practices, and allow voters to verify information, correct inaccurate information, and be assured that the information provided will not be used for non-voting related purposes. For more information, see EPIC's pages on Voting and Voter Registration Databases. (May 25, 2005)
- EPIC Participates in Hearing on Voter Registration Databases: EPIC Associate Director Lillie Coney testified before the Election Assistance Commission on privacy safeguards for new voter registration databases. Ms. Coney, who also coordinates the National Committee for Voting Integrity, urged the Commission to examine the risks in the new centralized databases. The hearing was also webcast. (Apr. 28, 2005)
- EPIC launches statewide voter registration web page (March 1, 2005)
The first step in participating as a voter in an election held in the United States is voter registration. Only six states allow same-day voter registration. For this reason, the process and efficiency of this function provided by states is critical to full participation in public elections by citizens.
In the wake of the 2000 election disaster, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which stipulated minimum election standards for states and provided funds for states to replace punch card voting systems, also mandating that all states should have centralized voter registration lists. The legislation established for the first time a federal role in how local and state governments conduct elections involving federal offices.
HAVA also created a new federal agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, headed by four bipartisan members. The agency must, among other duties, provide guidance to states on the "testing, certification, decertification, and recertification of voting system hardware and software by accredited laboratories."
History of Federal Voter Registration
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. --Martin Luther King Jr.
The current era of voting rights was established by the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was intended to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, which established that "Rights [should] Not Be Denied on Account of Race." This amendment was passed by Congress on February 26, 1869 and was ratified February 3, 1870 in response to resistance to extending the protections offered by the 14th Amendment to include recently freed slaves. The 14th Amendment established "Privileges and Immunities, Due Process, and Equal Protection" for all citizens.
Very little occurred with federal efforts to address the disparity of treatment experienced by citizens of color who inhabited the United States until the civil rights era circa 1950-1970. The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened a new chapter in United States history and furthered the goal of full citizen participation in self governance.
In 1993 Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act (also known as the "NVRA" and the "Motor Voter Act"). The act is designed to enhance voting opportunities for every American and makes it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote. The means of achieving greater access to opportunities to register to vote included placing voter registration applications in State Department of Motor Vehicle offices, government social service offices, and requiring strict rules for purging voting registration lists prior to elections.
The NVRA requires states to provide:
"Motor Voter" Registration - Voter registration must be available at the same time as driver's license application or renewal. Agency-based Voter Registration - When an individual applies for services, service renewal or address change, voter registration opportunities must be offered to each applicant. These services are available through all offices that provide public assistance and all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities. Mail-in Voter Registration - Voter registration must be accepted by mail-in forms developed by each state and the Federal Election Commission. Detailed information regarding the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 is available at U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Voting Section
Problems with Voter Registration Resists
- Lack of transparency. The need for transparency is important to public understanding of how the process works and more importantly, where it could use additional resources to accomplish the tasks required by voter registration systems employed by states. Insufficient transparency of the voter registration process prevents further scrutiny of certain types of voter registration management issues. One challenge that is as old as public election, includes multiple inter and intra-state voter registrations. It was discovered that 11,000 voters, some of them deceased, were registered in Indiana. Although voting more than once in state and federal elections is a felony, states and the federal government rarely investigate charges of multiple voting across state lines. However, several regional newspapers took it upon themselves to check for multiple registrations on voting rolls across state lines. The Orlando Sentinel reported that it found more than 68,000 cases of voters with the same names and dates of birth registered in two states in the states of Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. The Charlotte Observer found as many as 60,000 voters may be registered in both North and South Carolina. The Kansas City Star provided proof that some voters had cast multiple ballots in the same federal election in Kansas and Missouri.
- Poor Administration of Voter Registration
- Multiple Registrations—Duplicate registrations are present on voting rolls due to voter error or confusion as well as poor records management by election administrators.
- Errors on Voter Rolls and Voter Registration Documents—There are errors on public voter registration rolls, but on Election Day 2004, poll workers and election administrators treated their voting eligibility records as if they were flawless. The Maricopa County Arizona election office sent 8,800 residents "election notification cards listing the wrong polling places in wrong cities." After last year's primary election in Pulaski County, Arkansas, election officials speculated on the reason why voters went to the wrong polling place. Some election officials concluded that in part because because incorrect information provided to voters on voter registration documents sent to them by the county.
- Problems with Voter Registration Forms—Too many state applications that were cluttered with text, the same question asked multiple times, and challenges to the voters right to privacy when the form is in transit to the registrar's office. Voters in Massachusetts faced the daunting challenge of out dated registration forms. These forms lacked an entry for a personal identification number, which was a requirement of the Help America Vote Act. There were charges made that New Hampshire's same-day voter registration process was too restrictive because of the language used in the sworn affidavit's requirements.
- Conflict of Interest Questions and Voter Registration Administrators—The rules and administration of voter registration on the state level falls to, in many cases, the office of the Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, or a special board or commission. Two examples that are noteworthy of possible conflicts of interests on the part of top state election officials that also control voter registration rules. The Secretary of State for Missouri Matt Blunt was on the November 2, 2004, ballot as a candidate for governor. Although he may not have used his position to secure his victory for that office on November 2, 2004, the appearance of a conflict of interest in fulfilling his public responsibility to conduct a fair election and his personal interest in the outcome of his own race should have been obvious. In addition to this situation, Ohio voters had to contend with their Secretary of State for Ohio, J. Kenneth Blackwell, holding the position of co-chair of the Ohio Bush Re-election Campaign. Secretary Blackwell also played a role in the 2000 Bush Presidential Campaign as Bush's "principal electoral system advisor," who was sent to Florida during the chaotic end of the Presidential general election in 2000.
- Voting Roll Purges—There were approximately 4.7 million Americans who were prevented from voting in 2000 because of a felony conviction. A report compiled by the ACLU, the Right to Vote Coalition, and Demos titled "Purged!" that was released in October of last year, reviewed individual state felony voter roll purge practices. In 2000 Florida was given a list of 8,000 names from a data broker since acquired by ChoicePoint, which incorrectly identified them as having felony convictions in the state of Texas.
- Uncertainty About Voter Registration Status—Voters in many states faced the prospects of being denied the right to vote because they were unsure if their voter registration efforts had been successful. On Election Day many who had voted in the past and assumed that their registration was still valid learned that it was not, due to a lack of voting activity. Many college and university students who intended to participate in last year's presidential election were blocked by local and state administration rules for registering to vote.
- Third Party Voter Registration Efforts—There were numerous third party voter registration efforts. These include any registrations not involving people who went directly to a state or local voter registrar's office to file an application to participate in last year's primaries or general election. Millions of voters went to the polls on Election Day confident that they were registered because of the registration efforts of churches, mosque, synagogues, community & civic groups, local and national voter registration efforts, but found problems.
- Invalid DMV Voter Registration Process—It would be easier to point the finger of blame at some non-government registration efforts, but the main source of invalid registration efforts on Election Day may have been the collective efforts of State Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
- The Federal Government's Two Cents on Voter Registration—Voter registration efforts attracted the attention of several federal agencies. The Department of Homeland Security found its mission stretched to include securing the exterior of new citizen swearing-in events from non-partisan voter registration efforts. The agency was pressed into service again when the Sheriff of Alamance County, North Carolina, submitted a list of registered Latino voters to the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to cross check their immigrant status. During the summer, the Indian Health Agency would not allow employees to run a non-partisan voter registration drive at hospitals and clinics that served Native Americans. In an e-mail, "Ronald C. Wood, executive officer of the program's regional Navajo office, told his hospital and clinic directors that ‘we are in a very sensitive political season' and outlined a policy that he said came from Indian Health Service headquarters."
- Invalid Voter Registrations—The struggle that local and state election administration officials face when they have to determine which voter registration applications are authentic, puts a strain on their limited resources. The Chicago Board of Elections used handwriting analysis to determine that between 1,000 to 2,000 voter registrations from one ward were from nonexistent people or addresses, or vacant lots. Another dilemma faced by election officials occurs when a legitimate voter has the same name as a celebrity, a person of notoriety, or a fictional character.
Voter Registration and Privacy
There should be appropriate oversight of efforts to register the homeless when done in conjunction with providing them with vital services. There should be no condition of benefits associated with the act of registering to vote. The choice should be clearly that of the individual to register and participate in a public election. There should also be adequate oversight to ensure that homeless people who wish to participate in the election process are free from intimidation and harm as they exercise their constitutional rights.
There are approximately 215 million eligible voters in the United States and only 144 million of them are registered to vote according to the report "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age," prepared by the California Voter Foundation. Most citizens know that voter registration rolls are also used to select jury pools for local, state and federal court cases. However, the voter registration data is also shared with political campaigns for the purpose of promotion of their candidates. Unfortunately, this election year it was made very evident that not all solicitations for registration information are to seek out votes. Voters reported getting unsolicited calls from individuals that state that they needed the social security number of registered voters to confirm their registration. The information already publicly available on voter registration records coupled with social security numbers presents a source for identity theft. Others may have used publicly available voter registration information to target voters for suppression and intimidation activities. Reports out of Florida just prior to the November 2nd election indicate that voters had to be content with their party affiliation being changed from Democrat to Republican and strangers offering to pick up completed absentee ballots. Making the decision to participate in public elections should not mean that voters have to give up their right to privacy. Unfortunately, voter registration information in many states is considered public information.
Other Voter Registration Resources
- The Impact of the Voter Registration Act 1997-1998
- The Impact of the Voter Registration Act on 1999-2000 Federal Elections (pdf)
- Administrative Structure of State Election Offices
- Voter Registration and Turnout Statistics
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Voter Registration Issues in the News
- 73 Voter Registrations Voided, The News Tribune, February 19, 2005
- County Tests Voter Registration System, Nobelsville Daily Times, February 24, 2005
- Maine Awards $4.5 Million Dollar Voter Registration Contract, dBusiness News Detroit, February 5, 2005
- Election Friction Stirs Counties, The Ledger, February 18, 2005
- Secretary of State Proposes Changes in Election Law, Tallahassee Democrat, February 16, 2005
May 23, 2007
Page URL: http://www.epic.org/privacy/voting/register/default.html