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State of the Vote: 18 Days to Go

October 17, 2008


CONTACTS: Deb Greenspan, dgreenspan@gloverparkgroup.com, 202-741-5573

A Round-up of Problems Facing Voters Nationwide

With just 18 days to go until Election Day, we’re seeing a myriad of problems that threaten to prevent hundreds of thousands of voters from casting ballots or having their votes counted in this election cycle. Below please find a roundup of the various ways that voters’ rights are in jeopardy in battleground states – just a few examples of the kind of activities taking place.

Election Protection can provide leading voting rights experts for interviews and stories from real voters. For more information visit www.866ourvote.org or contact Debra Greenspan at 202-741-5573.

Voter registration application backlogs.
The unprecedented registration and get-out-the-vote efforts by both parties, along with the historic nature of this election, promise to elicit a record number of voters on Election Day. Mountains of new voter registrations are causing backlogs in voter data entry – which partisans are using as reasons to keep these applicants from making it onto the rolls, as we’ve just seen in Ohio. Backlogs often force local election offices to send out verification and polling place information late or not at all.

In Colorado: election officials are struggling to verify thousands of voter registration forms before October 20 when early voting opens. In Georgia: a week ago, in DeKalb County about 30,000 registrations were sitting in boxes waiting to be entered. In New York, in Dutchess County, officials are telling voters that if their backlogged registrations aren’t processed in time, they should request a court order to vote. In Alabama, a controversy is raging over who can be registered, contributing to the backlog of requests.

Allegations of voter registration fraud.
The recent controversy over ACORN ‘s voter registration program emphasizes the critical need for a comprehensive system to handle the quadrennial crush of registration applications. We currently have effective systems in place for flagging duplicate and ineligible applications, but the burdens created by this deadline-driven process could be eliminated with smart, federal voter registration reform.

Several opinion writers and editorial boards across the country have weighed in on the issue, skeptical of the partisan nature of the allegations. Many offer a pragmatic approach to dealing with these accusations, including articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer, GateHouse News Service and the Baltimore Sun.

No match, no vote.
Under our current patchwork of election laws, each state (and sometimes each county) has a different way of comparing voter lists to state databases to make sure rolls are “clean” and updated, These matching requirements could mean that a simple misspelling or misplaced hyphen could knock tens of thousands of eligible voters off the rolls.

In Florida: a controversial “no-match” law has taken effect, calling into question the validity of several thousand voters’ registrations filed after September 8. In Ohio: the United States Supreme Court rejected attempts by the Ohio Republican Party to require that Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner provide access to a database of voters whose registration information does not match state records. The decision protects 200,000 newly registered Ohioans. The Social Security Administration has sent requests to six states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio – asking that they investigate whether improper social security number checks are being run on newly registered voters.

In Arizona, a disabled veteran filed a lawsuit saying he was deprived of his right to vote last year because the military ID he presented did not include his address. Although he should have been allowed to file a provisional ballot, poll workers forbid him from doing so.

Poorly designed application forms.
About 6,400 new voters in Colorado may not be allowed to cast regular ballots on Election Day because they failed to check a box on a voter registration form. Voting rights groups have asked the state to accept registration applications that contain all necessary identifying information, but lack a checkmark in a superfluous box. Currently, the state is considering these applications “incomplete.”

Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to reverse her ruling and direct election boards to accept absentee ballots that lacked one checkmark on ballot applications sent from Republican John McCain’s campaign.

The true impact of purging legitimate voters from the polls may not be known until people are turned away on Election Day, but we already know of instances where purging is taking place. For example, in Michigan, a federal judge ordered Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land to restore more than 1,500 Michigan voters to the rolls who were illegally purged based on undeliverable mail or because they applied for a driver’s license in another state.

In Georgia, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, claiming her office is possibly purging thousands of voters based on challenges to citizenship although federal law prohibits such activity less than 90 days before the election.

Deceptive practices.
Following allegations that a Michigan Republican county chairman said the party will challenge the voting status of homeowners facing foreclosure, officials in Ohio, Maryland, Illinois, Nevada and elsewhere were forced to quickly reassure their constituents that foreclosure does not exclude voters from participating in the election. In Indiana, Marion County GOP Chairman Tom John said he would not rule out challenging the votes of individuals whose homes had been foreclosed.

Students are also the victims of misinformation and deceptive practices. Students at Drexel University in Pennsylvania reported seeing flyers around campus that warned students that police would be at the polls on Election Day, arresting anyone with a prior offense, including unpaid parking tickets. Old Dominion University students registered to vote in Virginia received questionnaires from Norfolk election officials asking for tax, driver’s license and vehicle registration information. This came on the heels of similar misinformation by the local election board in Blacksburg, which warned that Virginia Tech students could lose scholarships and impact their parents’ tax status if they registered at their campus address.

Lack of standard rules confuse voters.
Georgia residents who mailed in their voter registration applications received official letters that incorrectly stated ID requirements.

These are just a few examples of the many problems facing voters in the days leading up to Election Day. For more information, or if you would like to speak to a voting rights expert, please contact Debra Greenspan at 202-741-5573 or Stacie Miller at 202-662-8317.