Managing Voter Registration Rolls
Airtight election integrity begins with accurate voter rolls. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 requires that states maintain a database of eligible voters who have registered to vote. The basics are elementally simple. Add eligible voters to the database when they register. Remove registered voters from the database when they die or move to another state. Update voters’ records when they move to a different voting precinct within the same state. Update voters’ records to indicate in which elections they have actually voted.
Registration – When someone applies to become a registered voter, it obviously is important to verify all of these things:
- Name – A living person by the name given actually exists.
- Address – The address is not fictitious and the person actually is currently living there.
- Uniqueness – The person is not already in the database (at a different address or under an alias, for example).
It is a mistake to short cut or hurry the verification process. Also, accurate, current and complete information must be available at each polling place on election day. Therefore, voters need to register a safe period (say, at least 10 to 14 days) before an election in order to be able to vote in that election.
Some advocate accepting registrations up to, and sometimes even on, election day; that is, to register then vote essentially immediately. It should seem obvious to anyone that such a policy compromises integrity. Furthermore, there is no compelling need or problem that would be solved by allowing this. Timely registration is just one very minor additional requirement of good citizenship.
Purging – Even if voter registration is under perfect control, registration rolls can still be incorrect. Voters do relocate occasionally and they also die, sometimes without notice. Consequently, the database must be carefully purged and/or updated, either continuously or at least in advance of each election (HAVA prohibits purging within 90 days of an election). Historically, this has sometimes been neglected, and there certainly are examples of fraud where impersonators have shown up to vote claiming to be voters who had recently passed away.
One method of purging is called “Voter Caging.” US registered mail is posted to voters and any returned as “undeliverable” is taken as evidence that the voter should be purged. Often this was done by political parties for voters of opposing parties. If/when such voters did appear to vote, they were challenged. Voter caging is now illegal in several states and some judges have declared the practice illegal.
It can be especially difficult to detect voters who have moved outside a state. To cover that base, a non-profit organization called The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) was formed with the sole mission of assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls. It is supported by the 33 states which are ERIC members and users. ERIC maintains a database comprised of voter and motor vehicle registration data from all member states. All states should utilize ERIC.
Purging is not going to be perfect, but it needs to be very, very good if citizens are going to trust elections implicitly. Occasional mistakes are inevitable. HAVA requires that a voter appearing at a polling place and finding that s/he is not on the voter rolls must be allowed to complete a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted or not based upon confirmation of voters’ eligibility. This is a good solution and there should be very few provisional ballots.
HAVA also prohibits purging voters solely on the basis of their voting history. However, it does not seem at all unreasonable that, as a “catch all,” voters who have not voted in any election for, say, four years be purged and mailed a notification that they must re-register. Ohio implements this policy and combines it with other checks to comply with HAVA.