Lawmakers debate how states should maintain voter registration rolls
Chairman of the House Administration Committee Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said it is paramount for elections to be conducted in a fair and open manner.
“Ensuring the accuracy of voter registration lists is the foundation to a successful election. Having accurate lists increases voter confidence, it eases the administration of elections, reduces wait times, and certainly helps prevent voter fraud and irregularity,” Harper said.
The hearing also questioned crosscheck programs and automatic voter registration practices.
“How can the federal government improve the information sharing between states concerning residents while recognizing that the states have already banded together and created programs to do so?” Harper questioned.
The National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter Act, establishes requirements for how states maintain voter registration lists for federal elections. Section eight of the act clarifies that states must keep voter registration lists accurate and current. That includes identifying individuals who have become ineligible to vote because they are deceased or no longer living in a jurisdiction.
“At the same time, the Act requires list-maintenance programs to incorporate specific safeguards, e.g., that they be uniform, non-discriminatory, in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and not be undertaken within 90 days of a federal election,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
States are also required to report election results through the Election Administration and Voting Survey distributed by the Election Assistance Commission. The survey is filled out by each state after an election takes place. However, not all states track voting information in the same way and it can vary from state to state. Lawmakers discussed what that means; some questions asked in the survey may not align with how the individual state can retrieve the data from its system.
Accurate data collection could inform states of important information. For example, if there are more registered voters than citizens of voting age.
Harper has introduced legislation to dissolve the Election Assistance Commission.
Ranking member Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., in partnership with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2017. During the hearing, Brady said the act would work to expand upon the Motor Voter Act and prompt citizens when they interact with government agencies if they would like to register or renew registration.
“In maintaining these lists, we need to have one principle, no one who has lawfully registered to vote should be kicked off the rolls to keep them from voting,” Brady said.
Hearing witness Illinois Secretary of State Connie Lawson said maintaining accurate voter rolls can be costly at the local level.
“Many counties do not have the money to do periodic and uniform mailings to their voters as required by federal law. Thus, the state has taken the lead,” Lawson remarked.
“Counties with bloated voter rolls are forced to spend more money to purchase extra equipment, secure additional locations and pay for election workers.”
Her state recently undertook voter registration malignance in 2014, canceling nearly 480,000 voter registrations through the process. She claims that implementing list maintenance reduces the election costs because jurisdictions have a better understanding of the number of individuals who could turn out in person to vote.
Indiana also participates in the interstate crosscheck program. Lawson explained that this program compares the names on voter registration rolls in one state to another.
Indiana’s Bipartisan Election Division developed software that issues a confidence level score for how likely the voter is the same person registered in both states. The program uses first and last name, middle initial or name, driver’s license number, Social Security number, birth date and other qualifiers to produce a percentage score. If the score is higher than 75 percent, the individual is then flagged to election officials.
Hearing witness and Director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union Dale Ho claimed that the interstate crosscheck program struggles with accuracy.
“With due respect to the secretary, we advise against crosscheck. A team of researchers at Stanford, Harvard, UPenn and Microsoft found misidentified, supposed double voters more than 99 percent of the time,” Ho said. The crosscheck user manual itself states “a significant number of apparent double votes are false positives.”
“There is nothing wrong with sharing information across state lines. You just have to make sure the underlying data are accurate and that you are matching protocols don’t generate false positives. And unfortunately, the crosscheck system which we hear referenced frequently, suffers from flaws in both of those regards,” Ho remarked.
Ho added that registration systems should be modernized to better account for people who move and advocated for the use of automatic voter registration.