NEW YORK - March 7 - Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released new research suggesting that improper implementation of statewide voter registration databases required under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) could result in millions of eligible voters being denied access to the rolls.
The report, "Making the List: Database Matching and Verification Processes for Voter Registration," is the first extensive national survey of current state practices relating to the implementation of statewide voter registration databases required by 2006 under HAVA.
"HAVA was meant to ensure that voter registration rolls are accurate and that all eligible citizens are able to cast their vote," said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. "Unfortunately, this report makes clear that poor implementation of HAVA's database requirement has the potential to disenfranchise millions of Americans."
The Brennan Center found that the practice of using Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Social Security Administration databases to verify information on voter registration forms could create unwarranted hurdles to registration and, in at least seven states, could result in 20 percent of eligible voters being incorrectly left off the rolls.
"Databases compiled at different times and for different purposes record information differently: 'William' may not match 'Will' or 'Billy' and a maiden name may not match a married name. Given that, a 'no-match, no-vote' policy would be a disaster for voters," stated Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program and one of the report's authors.
In 2004 the New York City Board of Elections conducted an experiment to audit their voter rolls using match criteria similar to that being considered in states across the country. The Board of Elections attempted to match 15,000 new voter registration records against those in the state motor vehicle database. 1 out of 5 records failed to match solely because of typos by election officials.
"The lesson from New York City's audit is that a strictly applied no-match, no-vote policy would disenfranchise an astounding percentage of voters," stated Brennan Center attorney Justin Levitt, one of the report's authors.
The Brennan Center report found that seven states in particular -- Iowa, Maryland, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington -- are set to implement database matching policies that could create severe barriers to the right to vote.
"Each of these states is on a collision course that could result in chaos at the polls in November as millions of eligible voters find they are unable to cast their ballot," stated Levitt.
Policy Proposals that Protect Voters
The Brennan Center report contains concrete proposals to help states implement the law so that all eligible voters "make the list". The report recommends that states enact:
-- policies that account for the wide variety of common database matching errors and ensure that the match process will not bar registration of an eligible voter;
-- guidelines for matching voter information to other government databases, with built-in flexibility and ample opportunity to correct mistakes that arise
-- standards for clarifying registration forms, for ensuring accurate data entry from the forms into registration databases and for keeping database information updated
-- clear, transparent and voter-protective procedures for database maintenance and purging.
Several states have already adopted or are considering adopting many of the Brennan Center's guidelines to protect voters from being dropped from the rolls. The report singled out Nebraska, New Jersey and Oregon as the leaders in efforts to enact HAVA's database provisions in ways true to their intent.
"Thankfully, most states have not formalized their policies around voter databases. Hopefully this report will cause state lawmakers to realize just what's at stake here and spur them to adopt sane database policies that protect Americans' right to vote" stated Goldberg.
A full copy of the report is available on the Brennan Center's Web site at http://www.brennancenter.org/programs/downloads/HAVA/svrd/SVRD%20matching%20report.pdf.