Election 2008

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Questions and Challenges Surround Voter Registration Process

October 10, 2008 10:00 AM
by Christopher Coats
Accusations of wrongdoing are mounting as voter registration methods come under fire.

Registration Troubles

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In a year that has seen record numbers of new voters thanks to widespread registration campaigns, many feel that the presidential election could hinge on those citizens new to the system.

However, as the New York Times reported on Wednesday, tens of thousands of voters “have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering,” many through questionably legal measures.

Notably, many of these measures are being implemented in potentially pivotal swing states, such as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

While there has been a concerted effort to rid the rolls of ineligible voters in accordance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, The New York Times reports that in some states, for every new voter added to the rolls in the past two months, two voters have been dropped from the rolls.

The Act required all states to compile comprehensive lists of eligible voters into a single database. However, the voter registration databases, some designed by companies that build electronic voting machines, aren’t federally tested, and “some have been plagued by missed deadlines, rushed production schedules, cost overruns, security problems, and design and reliability issues,” according to Wired magazine. 

Due to the large number of voters dropped, many will not be notified of their removal until Election Day, long after they might have been able to do anything about it.

According to The New York Times study, Michigan and Colorado saw thousands of names dropped from the rolls in recent weeks, even though federal law forbids their removal within 90 days of a national election, except in cases of death, notification of relocation out of state or if they are deemed officially unfit to vote.

A closer look at the two states showed that those names purged from the rolls since Aug. 1 far exceeded the number of residents who had died or relocated out of the states.

Meanwhile, Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio have improperly used social security numbers to verify registrations, a method that, under federal law, is intended to be a last resort.

This method flags those registrations that do not match up with the social security rolls. In Ohio, the state’s Republican Party has filed a motion to require that any voter who has been flagged must clear up the discrepancy or vote using a provisional ballot.

Background: A record-setting year

This year saw a record number of new voters in a number of battleground states. Thanks to a prolonged primary season and widespread voter registration campaigns across the country, Democrats have seen their numbers increase more than Republicans. According to USA Today, Democrats registered more than 800,000 new voters in eight battleground states while Republicans lost 300,000.

These large numbers have given the Democrats the most to gain from spikes in new voters but also made them the target of allegations of fraud and misrepresentation.

Critics have focused much of their energy at organizations focused on voter registration, such as ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN has been accused in Nevada and Ohio of submitting questionable registrations.

Active investigations into ACORN, including their use of outside entities to collect voter registrations, resulted in a raid of their Nevada office earlier this week.

Related Topic: An election-year trend

These recent developments are only the latest in a string of challenges that has come to characterize the voting experience in the 2008 presidential election.

“Just as voting machines were the major issue that came out of the 2000 presidential election and provisional ballots were the big issue from 2004, voter registration and these statewide lists will be the top concern this year," Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University, told the Associated Press.

Last month saw a number of legal challenges involved in registration efforts in Ohio, Florida and Michigan, including efforts to inappropriately remove voters from the rolls before Election Day.

In Michigan, the campaign of Democratic candidate Barack Obama filed an injunction against the use of foreclosure lists to challenge voters’ residence of record in a method referred to as “caging.”

The accusation came after a GOP official in Michigan allegedly said that Republican representatives would be at every polling place with a list of foreclosed home owners, a quote he later denied making and has resulted in threats of a libel suit.

In several states, Election Day registrations have been challenged, though Ohio has seen an especially large number of legal arguments against the practice, as well as arguments against early or absentee voting without providing a reason to the state.

In 2005, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill allowing voters to submit absentee ballots without providing a reason. The law is now being challenged by the state’s Republican Party, who alleged that it violates an existing state law requiring that voters be registered for at least 30 days before they can vote.

Reference: Are you still registered?

If you have registered to vote but are unsure whether your registration is on record and up to date, there are several sites that can help put you at ease before Election Day.

Can I Vote? allows you to perform searches according to state, county and address to make sure you’re registered, and lets you search for your polling place.
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