States Illegally Take ‘Tens of Thousands’ off Voters Off Rolls

Responding to the implication that Democrats are trying to steal the election with fraudulent voter registration, a correspondent sent along this NYT report from yesterday’s edition:

States’ Actions to Block Voters Appear Illegal

Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.

The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run.

Still, because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party’s supporters disproportionately. The screening or trimming of voter registration lists in the six states — Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day: people who have been removed from the rolls are likely to show up only to be challenged by political party officials or election workers, resulting in confusion, long lines and heated tempers. Some states allow such voters to cast provisional ballots. But they are often not counted because they require added verification.

Although much attention this year has been focused on the millions of new voters being added to the rolls by the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, there has been far less notice given to the number of voters being dropped from those same rolls.

States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and remove the names of voters who should no longer be listed; but for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows.

The six swing states seem to be in violation of federal law in two ways. Michigan and Colorado are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.  Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters.

In addition to the six swing states, three more states appear to be violating federal law. Alabama and Georgia seem to be improperly using Social Security information to screen registration applications from new voters. And Louisiana appears to have removed thousands of voters after the federal deadline for taking such action.

This is indeed problematic and, because it involves state action, it’s especially so.  It differs from the allegations against ACORN, which is apparently incentivizing people to commit registration fraud, in that problem here appears to be bureaucratic incompetence and/or overzealousness in the pursuit of good intentions.  But it’s nonetheless a bad outcome. Election fraud is a mostly theoretical problem in the United States and these measures are causing far, far more harm than good.

It seems to me that combining two measures highly unpopular with each of the major political parties would solve a lot of this mess.   Why not simply do away with voter registration altogether while requiring the presentation of a government-issued, address bearing identification card at the polls?  A standard drivers’ license would demonstrate that one is 1) of age and 2) lives in the state/precinct/ward, etc.   Localities that exclude felons would have to come up with some way of encoding that information on the card in a way that protects privacy, I suppose, but it shouldn’t be that complicated.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Campaign 2008, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Hoodlumman says:

    But James… James…

    Why do you hate the poor? And minorities?

  2. Rick Almeida says:

    em here appears to be bureaucratic incompetence and/or overzealousness in the pursuit of good intentions.

    The article implies strongly that the latter is not the case. The key element appears to be that 6 or so states are using a demonstrably-inferior method of verifying registrations (the social security database) as a first resort instead of a last, which is allegedly resulting in a far outlying number of unverifiable registrations.

  3. M1EK says:

    That’s a disappointingly provincical perception problem. What about people who don’t drive (young people in cities; retired people in Florida)?

  4. Michael says:

    A standard drivers’ license would demonstrate that one is 1) of age and 2) lives in the state/precinct/ward, etc.

    A standard driver’s license doesn’t contain precinct data. That would also mean that you must renew your driver’s license if your state redraws it’s precincts or districts. It would also mean that a bus load of people with fake IDs can give you 105% voter turnout.

  5. Michael says:

    What about people who don’t drive (young people in cities; retired people in Florida)?

    Yeah, we all wish the retired people in Florida didn’t drive…..

  6. Houston says:

    Election fraud is a mostly theoretical problem in the United States…

    Is this really true? How well do we know?

    If fund-raising fraud is any indication, then the risk of voter fraud ain’t theoretical.

    …these measures are causing far, far more harm than good

    Perhaps they serve as a deterrent to fraudulant voters…

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The Iraqis had a method of insuring a voter voted once. Blue ink. Dip a finger in the ink and voila. However, the problem appears to be early voters and registration. States rights.

  8. Fence says:

    Non-citizens can get a DL. And fake IDs could be a problem.

    A standard driver’s license doesn’t contain precinct data. That would also mean that you must renew your driver’s license if your state redraws it’s precincts or districts.

    The problem isn’t whether the license in your wallet contains precinct data on its face. The reason registration is important is not because I get a card, but because the polling station has a list of people in their hands that tells them who can vote.

    problem here appears to be bureaucratic incompetence and/or overzealousness in the pursuit of good intentions

    Oh, make no mistake, not all of the intentions here are good

  9. Richard Gardner says:

    Another voter issue that has appeared is underage voter registrations, often coming from the “Motor Voter” Act. In WA State an outside review recently found ~16,000 underage registrations incorrectly accepted. Many of these were held by the County Auditors until the person was eligible to vote, but others received ballots.

    After the 2004 Governor’s race in WA State (decided by ~132 votes) the voter rolls were scrubbed and the state probably has one of the better voter rolls in the nation, yet there are still systemic problems causing errors like this.

    For clarification, someone who is 17 may register if they will be 18 by the next election. Today that means they had window of August 20, the day after the Primary, to Oct 5, registration deadline, to register for the November election if their birthday is between the cutoff and the election.

  10. another matt says:

    Small nitpick…

    You misspelled “off” in the title of the post. I only bring it to your attention because it’s the title.

  11. just me says:

    I like the idea of requiring a photo ID in order to vote.

    I think the issue of precincts can easily be solved by requiring people to have their actually street address on their license or to bring a bill with their address on it to prove where they live.

    If their address changes and the license is still valid then they can bring a piece of mail in to register.

    In NH we have same day registration-you have to have a photo ID and a piece of mail to register and vote that day. I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t work.

    If people don’t have a license and don’t want one, then they should offer free ID only for voting purposes to people who need or want them.

    I think the registration systems aren’t that good anyway-they don’t really seem to appear legitimate.

  12. Bithead says:

    Election fraud is a mostly theoretical problem in the United States and these measures are causing far, far more harm than good.

    This seems awfully thin, James.

    This comment applies to the post about Indy being 105% registered, as well, wherein I think you commented that registration fraud doesn’t equal vote fraud. IE; we can’t PROVE that registrations submitted fradulently, are being used to generate actual votes.

    First off, we have Ohio, where the Secratary of state…a Democrat, and of whom, Obama is quoted as saying he’s comfortable with having her counting votes, who had to be court ordered to filter out the fraudulent applications. Her level of complience with that order would seem a question mark, given the law there, along with common freaking sense, would make such a ruling unnessasary at the off. Clearly, she wasn’t interested in removing the Democrat-leaning ACORN fruad from the voting system. That’s one example we know of, and I have no cause to think we won’t find similar situations elsehwere assuming the press decides to look for it. Supporting Democrats themselves they’re not overly motivated to expose this fraud.

    Secondly, Any group that can slip these large numbers of fraudulent voter applications into the system isn’t going to have much in the way of problems getting actual fraudulent votes on the boards, since we’re talking about bureaucratic incompetence at least, and in some cases, such as Ohio, we’re talking about the apparent aiding abetting outright vote fraud.

    It seems a stretch to argue that this combination isn’t producing fraudulant votes.

    And remember, these large numbers we’re seeing reported on, are only the ones we KNOW about. The numbers of the ones we’ve found out about suggest an iceberg scenario, with the obvious fraud being merely the tip of the ‘berg. Who knows how many fraudulent registrations are being used to generate fraudulent VOTES?

    And since the fraud uncovered is running 4 to one Democrat, and most of that from a group dedicated to supporting Obama, what do you suppose the chances are Obama ends up in offoce because of voter fraud?

    I’d peg the chances as rather high.