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Voter Registration and Privacy

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    • DOJ Challenges Florida's Restrictive Voter Registration Policy The Department of Justice (DOJ)[/1] is filing a challenge to the state of Florida's new election law. The DOJ will oppose changes to Florida's voting procedures that impact third party voter registration, and shorten early voting to 10 days. For example the new state law makes it a felony if third party voter registrations efforts do not return applications to election officials within 48 hours. For more information, see EPIC: Voting Privacy and Voter Registration. This law would impact voter registration applications collected by any person including a family member. March 5, 2012
    • Pennsylvania Judge Blocks Voter ID Requirement: A Pennsylvania district court barred the state from enforcing voter identification requirements in the upcoming November elections. Following guidance from the state Supreme Court, Judge Robert Simpson issued a narrow preliminary injunction. He ordered that Pennsylvania may not require photo IDs to vote in November. Election officials may ask voters for identification, but those without ID may still cast regular ballots. Judge Simpson explained that the state Supreme Court identified "the essential offending activity as voter disenfranchisement, not a request to produce photo ID." EPIC has previously argued that voter ID requirements impermissibly burden the right to vote. For more information, see EPIC: Voter ID and Privacy and EPIC: Crawford v. Marion County. (Oct. 3, 2012)
    • 2012 Democrat Platform Endorses Internet Privacy: The 2012 Democratic National Platform supports the administration’s Internet Privacy Bill of Rights to protect consumer privacy. Separate provisions in the platform call for privacy protections for broadband deployment, intellectual property enforcement, and cybersecurity laws; the Democratic platform opposes voter identification laws. However, the platform is silent on the Fourth Amendment, and retreats from the 2008 Democratic platform that opposed surveillance of individuals that were not suspected of a crime. In 2008, Candidate Obama promised to "strengthen the privacy protections for the digital age and to harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy.” The 2012 Republican Platform was released last week. The Libertarian and Green Party platforms are also available. For more information, see EPIC: Privacy and Consumer Profiling, EPIC: Voter Photo ID and Privacy, EPIC: National Security Letters, and EPIC: Cybersecurity Privacy Practical Implications. (Sep. 4, 2012)
    • EPIC: Voters Should Be Wary of 2012 Election Apps: EPIC has released a report, "Smartphones and the 2012 Election," which focuses on the potential risks to voters who download election-related apps to their smartphones and tablets. The report contends that these apps promote greater citizen participation in e-democracy, but also may contain malware, disseminate false information A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication revealed that voters are ambivalent about "personalized" political advertising, a practice likely to increase with the number of election and political apps available for download. EPIC's report also examines the role of federal and state regulation in protecting voters and providing guidance to campaigns, and recommends actions that voters, election administrators, and campaigns can take to better protect voter privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Voting Privacy and EPIC: Location Privacy: Apple iPhone / iPad. (Aug. 13, 2012)
    • Voters Wary of Individually-Tailored Political Ads: A report by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania found that 86 percent of voters did not want political campaigns to tailor advertisements based on their interests. This percentage is higher than the percentage of respondents who reject other tailored advertisements (61%) or tailored news (56%). Significantly, a majority of respondents also reported that they would be less likely to vote for candidates that targeted them with tailored ads. For more information, see EPIC: Voter Privacy and EPIC: Public Opinion and Privacy. (Jul. 24, 2012)
    • Senate Judiciary Holds Hearing on Voter Suppressions: The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Prohibiting the Use of Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Tactics in Federal Elections." The Senate is considering new legislation to address the problem of deceptive practices and voter intimidation. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy cited "burdensome identification laws" as one of the obstacles to public participation in federal elections. A new report highlights similar problems in the recent Canadian national election. EPIC has published reports on deceptive campaign practices and filed briefs in opposition to unnecessary voter ID requirements. For more information see EPIC Voting Privacy and EPIC - Crawford v. Marion County. (Jun. 27, 2012)
    • Federal Appeals Court Backs Justice Department in Voting Rights Dispute: The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion rejecting Shelby County, Alabama's constitutional challenge to the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court held that Section 5 of the Act, which requires "covered jurisdictions" to show that new voting procedures, such as Voter ID requirements, are nondiscriminatory before those changes can be put into effect, is constitutional. Shelby County challenged the preclearance requirements after Congress reauthorized Section 5 in 2006. The Department of Justice recently blocked Voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas through the Section 5 preclearance process. EPIC has argued that unreasonable voter ID requirements are an impermissible burden on the right to vote. For more information, see EPIC: Voter Photo ID and Privacy and EPIC: Crawford v. Marion County. (May. 18, 2012)
    • District Court Panel Admonishes South Carolina in Voter ID Case: A three-judge panel overseeing a critical voter ID case, State of South Carolina v United States of America, set out an unusually detailed requirements in an Scheduling and Procedures Order issued today. According to the concurring statement of Judge Bates, joined by Judge Kollar-Kotelly, the state has engaged in delaying tactics even as it has urged a swift resolution of the matter, concerning new voting ID procedures adopted by the state. The court cited South Carolina's lack of responsiveness to the Department of Justice, "despite repeated requests" for the "final versions of the implementing procedures" for provisions of the law. The court expects to issue a final ruling in early September 2012., prior to the fall Presidential election. For more information, see EPIC: Voter Photo ID and Privacy. (Apr. 26, 2012)
    • Justice Department Strikes Down Texas Voter ID Law: The Department of Justice has determined that a Texas voter ID law that requires photo identification violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Texas law requires voters to present a driver's license or ID card issued by the state. The law also permits a voter to use military photo ID, a US citizenship certificate that contains the person's photograph, a US passport, or a license to carry a concealed handgun. The Department of Justice found that the Texas voter ID law disproportionately affects Hispanic voters because Hispanic voters are between 47% and 120% more likely than non-Hispanic registered voters to lack acceptable photo identification. The Department of Justice found that Texas "has not met its burden of proving that . . . the proposed [voter ID law] will not have a retrogressive effect, or that any specific features of the proposed law will prevent or mitigate that retrogression." In the voting conext, "retogression" refers to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters. For more information, see EPIC: Voter Photo ID and Privacy. (Mar. 12, 2012)
    • Court Blocks Wisconsin Voter ID Law: A Wisconsin state court has granted a temporary order blocking the state from enforcing a new voter ID requirement. Wisconsin is one of eight states that now require voters to present a government-issued photo ID. Voter ID laws typically discourage voter turnout, particularly among poor and minority communities. In NAACP v. Walker, the Wisconsin court said that the "scope of impairment has been shown to be serious, extremely broad and largely needless." For more information, see EPIC: Voter Photo ID and Privacy. (Mar. 6, 2012)
    • Senators Seek Study on Voter ID Laws: A group of U.S. senators have asked the Government Accountability Office to study the “alarming number” of new state laws that will make it “significantly harder” for millions of eligible voters to cast ballots this November. New state identification laws, by one estimate, will have a direct impact on 21 million American citizens who do not have a government-issued photo ID. The majority of those people are young would-be voters, the elderly, African Americans, Hispanics, and those earning $35,000 per year or less. For more information, see EPIC: Voting Privacy and Voter Photo ID and Privacy. (Feb. 29, 2012)
    • Virginia Senate Narrowly Approves Voter ID Law: The Virginia Senate passed a controversial voter photo ID law by one vote. The bill now goes to the Virginia House for consideration. Voter ID laws implicate the privacy rights rights of voters and also discourage voter turnout particularly among poorer voters who may not have necessary credentials, such as a drivers license. In 2007, EPIC challenged the Indiana voter photo ID law. For more information, see EPIC: Voting Privacy and EPIC: Crawford v. Marion County. (Feb. 28, 2012)
    • Justice Department Challenges South Carolina's Voter ID Law: The Justice Department has blocked South Carolina's voter ID law, calling it a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. The Department said the new photo ID requirements would dispropotionately exclude eligible minority voters from federal elections. The South Carolina law prohibits voting by anyone who does not possess a state driver's license, US Passport, Military ID, or voter registration card. Many eligible voters who participated in the 2008 and 2010 elections may be prevented from voting in 2012. Earlier, EPIC filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court, challenging an Indiana voter ID law. See EPIC: Voter Photo ID and Privacy and NCSL: State Voter ID Laws. (Dec. 28, 2011)
    • 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 Privacypage and the National Committee for Voting IntegrityWeb site. (July 29, 2005)
    • The EAC's a Report on Voter Registration in 2004:The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) released a reporton the impact of the Voter Registration Act of 1993on 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 Integrityhas submitted commentsto 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 Votingand Voter Registration Databases. (May 25, 2005)
    • EPIC Participates in Hearing on Voter Registration Databases:EPIC Associate Director Lillie Coney testifiedbefore the Election Assistance Commissionon 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)


    Only six states have flexible voter registration options for voters: North Dakota has no voter registration--and Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming have same-day voter registration. Voters in the other 44 states often must complete the registration process 30-days prior to an election. For this reason, the process and efficiency of this state managed function is critical to voting rights.

    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.

    Election reform in the late 1890s targeted new citizens and minority voter participation as a means of addressing waste, fraud and abuse of public office holders. The theory was these voters were the source of support for corrupt elected officials. To reduce corruption of elected officials a series of reforms were introduced:

    • Voter Registration and literacy test
    • Australian ballot--also known as the secret ballot. This ballot style eliminated the use of symbols to represent candidates or parties making it more difficult for illiterate or non-English speakers to cast ballots.
    • Nonpartisan elections--many city elected positions were dominated by one party.

    These reforms did reduce and in most cases eliminated corruption, but they also greatly reduced voting by minorities, the less educated and new citizens. In the 1900s 25 percent of white voting age males were immigrants and two-thirds of them came from non-English speaking countries. The greatest impact was to voters who did not reside in urban areas that did not have machine politics that supported political organization on precinct level. The changes in voting laws meant that a voter registration application must be completed in writing months before an election. When these voters arrived at the polls they were given ballots in English and not provided with translation or voter assistance options to help them cast a vote for the candidate of their choice.

    During the implementation of many election reforms states ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment stated that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous or servitude; and that Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. The 14th Amendment established "Privileges and Immunities, Due Process, and Equal Protection" for all citizens.

    Historically, local, state and federal government resources are not focused on public elections. Reforms also discouraged block voting for a single party and encouraged voters to make selections in each contest.

    The right to vote in elections continued to expand through the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment giving the right to vote to women. This change did come with resistance and great cost to women who fought for and won the battle for women suffrage. Jails, beatings and harassment were faced by women who made public their views on women voting rights.

    Through public education voter literacy rates increased so did the complexity of participating in public elections. Poll taxes, grandfather clauses, intelligence test, and arbitrary application of local and state voting laws worked against voters who were not wanted.

    Reformers' rationale for changing voting rules was to cultivate a better educated electorate and to combat voter fraud. Jurisdictions defined a better educated and more honest electorate in ways that targeted racial and ethnic minorities, new citizens, less educated and low income voters. This approach meant government efforts to facilitate voter participation were discouraged. The denial of voting rights based on illiteracy, race or lower income were revisited by the the Twenty-Forth Amendment, which banded the use of poll taxes and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    The current era of voting rights was established by the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 established legal mechanisms by the federal government to enforce the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

    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 1964and the Voting Rights Act of 1965opened a new chapter in United States history and furthered the goal of full citizen participation in self governance. In addition, the franchise was expanded to include persons 18 years of age or older through the passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.

    In 1993 Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act(also known as the "NVRA" and the "Motor Voter Act"). To remove barriers to voting posed by local and state government practices of unannounced voter roll purges that removed eligible voters from voter registration lists. The NVRA enhanced voting opportunities for every American and made it easier to exercise the right to vote. The law expanded access to voter registration to those applying for drivers licenses and state issued IDs, public assistance, housing assistance, and registering to attend public colleges and universities. The law facilitated 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 federal 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 Persists

    • Lack of state enforcement of the NVRA. States did not train staff who worked at public agencies on obligations under the NVRA to offer voter voter registration to clients. States did not create mechanisms to ensure that voter registration applications taken by service agencies were transmitted to election administrators. The Department of Justice did not enforce the NVRA when violations were found. This suppressed voting among minority, low income, young, and new members of communities." Third-party voter registration efforts. Because states were failing in their role to facilitate voter registration for persons who could participate in public elections third-party voter registration became increasingly important. The League of Women Voters, NAACP, ACRON (disbanded after false attacks were repeated in mainstream media) and others (church, civic groups, fraternities, sororities, and civic minded individuals) attempted to fill the void by conducting voter registration drives. Many of the states that enacted changes in their voter ID laws also imposed restrictions on third-party voter registration efforts. Many of voting law changes make it a felony to register new voters under very strict conditions--i.e Florida a voter registration application must be returned to an election administrators office within 48 hours. This has resulted in the end of many third-party voter registration efforts. Lack of transparency. The need for transparency is important to public understanding of how the voter registration process works and more importantly, where it could use additional resources to accomplish its purpose on the behalf of voters. 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 pursue cases 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 may or may not be cases of multiple registrations. 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.
      • The real question is--are people casting more than one vote or if a voter registered in error who should not be voting are they casting ballots. The Brennan Center's report The Truth About Voter Fraud found that voters casting illegal ballots represent .0004 of all ballots cast.
      • 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

    Voter Registration Issues in the News