Sunday, October 26, 2008

WATCHING THE COUNT

From the Brennan Center. In most of the these cases, the actions are designed to reduce the Democratic vote.

Colorado is treating applications missing unnecessary checkmarks to indicate that the registrant lacks a driver's license as incomplete. Thousands of recent registrations are already affected, and there will likely be more as counties process new forms.

Florida still rejects voter registration forms submitted without checkmarks in check boxes that are duplicative of other information on the forms. Thousands of votes were lost in prior federal elections because of this practice.

In September 2008, the Ohio Secretary of State announced the election officials must reject absentee ballot requests made by voters whose eligibility was not in serious doubt because of their failure to check an unnecessary check box. A federal court ordered the Secretary of State to process those ballot requests.

On October 20, 2008, the Nevada Republican Party wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to stop county officials from allowing voters who registered before the voter registration deadline but whose applications were incomplete to vote after correcting their applications. Nevada law allows voters to correct their applications within fifteen days after receiving notice from the state. On October 22, the Nevada Secretary of State rejected this request and ruled that applications corrected after the voter registration deadline but within 15 days after the county clerk sends notice are timely.

Across the country, there have been reports of widespread misinformation about student voting rights, misleading and intimidating statements, and registration and residency barriers unique to students. The fact that students are readily identifiable at their college community polling stations also makes them easy targets for partisan challengers or voter intimidation efforts. The result is a disproportionate number of student voters being challenged at the polls, discouraged from voting, or prematurely told to cast a provisional ballot.

Local registrars in several states, including in Virginia, were denying registration to students who provided dorm room addresses even though those are valid registration addresses.

A registrar in Montgomery County, Virginia, affecting Virginia Tech University, issued a memo giving incorrect and intimidating information to students about the consequences of registering to vote, including possible loss of financial aid and tax dependence status. Similarly, a county clerk in Colorado Springs, Colorado incorrectly told students at Colorado College that they could not vote at school if their parents claimed them as dependents on their federal tax returns. The websites of the Virginia and Indiana Secretary of States still contain misleading information that could dissuade eligible student voters.

On October 10, the registrar of Waller County, Texas entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to stop imposing unfair and illegal barriers to student voting.

Several states make it very difficult for students to establish residency for voting purposes. In Idaho and Tennessee, for example, students cannot establish voting residency unless they have affirmative plans to remain in the state after graduation. Virginia and Indiana also make it difficult for students to establish residency.

Michigan and Tennessee require all first-time voters who registered by mail to vote in person; they cannot vote absentee. This makes it nearly impossible for college students (a great percentage of whom are young, first-time voters) to vote in their hometowns

A flier recently disseminated on the campus of Drexel University in Philadelphia warned that undercover officers would be present at the polls, looking for voters with outstanding warrants or parking violations.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs denied voter registration access to residents and patients of its facilities, refusing to allow election officials or nonpartisan groups to offer voter registration services, and failing to provide such services itself. A last-minute change in policy offered only a partial fix to this problem.

Several states, including New Mexico and Florida, have enacted restrictive laws that interfere with the ability of groups to do voter registration drives.

A number of states have not been providing voter registration services at social service agencies, as required by the federal Motor Voter law.

In recent elections, robo-phone calls and misleading flyers, often targeting minority and low-income communities, have spread false information regarding elections and voting qualifications.

Two families reported visits by a private investigator inquiring about relatives that the state Republican Party alleges voted fraudulently in the June primary. The private investigator requested identification for relatives in question as proof of their eligibility, potentially in violation of federal law.

Deceptive fliers about the consequences of voting were distributed in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Philadelphia.

A law enforcement officer in Greene County, Ohio sought the names of 300 voters who registered and voted at the beginning of Ohio's early voting period in a town made up largely of students. The effort, which was later withdrawn, was criticized as an effort to intimidate student voters and deter others from voting.

In a move that could intimidate and deter voters, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently requested, via subpoena, personal information for 40% of the voters who registered and immediately cast a ballot during the weeklong period in which Ohio allows same-day registration and voting.

Dozens of voters reported that a firm hired by the California Republican Party tricked them into registering with the GOP when signing a petition they believed to toughen penalties against child molesters.

Residents have complained of misleading calls that provide inaccurate information regarding absentee ballot deadlines. The State Board of Elections is investigating.

Mississippi election officials were sharply criticized, in a New York Times editorial and in a letter sent by the Brennan Center, for their decision to place the Wicker-Musgrove U.S. Senate race at the bottom of Mississippi's ballot. This "ballot trick" placed the Senate race far below the other federal races listed in the 2008 election, creating a confusing layout for the ballot, one that could potentially mislead and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Mississippi voters in that race, particularly low-income and minority voters.

Twelve Ohio counties released sample paper ballots that split the presidential contest over two columns for this November's election. As the Brennan Center's study found, this particular layout often confuses voters and causes them to double-vote, an action which ultimately results in an uncounted ballot.

As a result of a ballot design problem in North Carolina, votes for president may have already been lost in the early voting period. The ballot is designed, counterintuitively, so that a straight-party vote does not include a vote for president; voters must separately mark their presidential contest choice.

The Republican Party of Montana challenged the registrations of over 6,000 voters in 7 counties based on change of address information. Many were service members and students eligible to vote in Montana but who had their mail forwarded to where they were serving or going to school. Under Montana's challenge rules, these voters would have had to answer the challenges to the satisfaction of election officials before being allowed to vote. After a public outcry-including criticism by the Republican Lieutenant Governor-the party abandoned the challenges.

The Chairman of the Republican Party of Macomb County, Michigan reportedly told an online publication that the party planned to mount challenges to voters whose names appeared on foreclosure lists. After public criticism and instructions by the Michigan Director of Elections that these challenges are insufficient under Michigan law, the Chairman denied that there were such plans (and even sued the publication for libel). There have been fears and reports that similar challenges will be mounted in other states, particularly battleground states such as Ohio where more than 5% of homes are currently in the foreclosure process.

Michigan illegally purged its voter rolls this year within 90 days of an election and using non-forwardable mailings to recently registered voters, according to a recent federal court ruling. The court ordered the restoration of about 1,400 voters who had been removed because their voter identification cards were returned as undelivered.

In response to a New York Times article, the Colorado Secretary of State admitted that at least 2,454 voters were purged illegally within 90 days of a federal election

Georgia recently began using an unreliable matching process to purge the voter rolls of alleged non-citizens. The process they use misses naturalized citizens because it only checks the citizenship documents used to obtain driver's licenses, no matter how long ago, and those records are not updated when legal residents become naturalized

Earlier this year, a county election administrator in Muscogee County, Georgia purged 700 people who were supposedly ineligible because of criminal convictions. The purge was highly inaccurate and included people who never received even a parking ticket.

About a week before the Mississippi primary, an election administrator in Madison County, Mississippi improperly purged approximately 10,000 voters, reportedly from her home computer. Reportedly, the purge was detected when it was discovered that a local candidate was removed from the voter rolls. By all accounts, the Secretary of State's staff successfully reinstated the erroneously purged voters in time for the primary.

After the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (the state's election board) rejected a proposal in July to retroactively implement a no "match, no vote" policy for all voters who registered since 2006, on September 10, the Attorney General sued the board seeking to force such a policy right before the election. The Board conducted an audit of its voter rolls and found a 22% match failure rate, including for 4 of the 6 members of the board. On October 23, 2008, the court dismissed the Attorney General's lawsuit, after concluding he lacked standing to bring the case; HAVA did not require the Government Accountability Board to link voters' eligibility to a successful match; and that doing so would violate the materiality provision of the Voting Rights Act.

On September 8, the Florida Secretary of State instructed election officials to reject voter registration applications that do not pass an error-prone computer match process. In the first three weeks of the policy, 15% of registrations were initially bounced because of failed computer matches; election officials were able to catch and correct obvious typos in about three quarters of these cases, but to date, more than 9,000 voters are being kept off the rolls. An analysis of the list reveals that African Americans make up 39% of blocked voters, and Latinos make up 34% of blocked voters whose race is known.

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