Tidying up voter rolls would prevent election fraud
States are trying to improve their lists, but House Democrats could hinder their efforts
Several months after the 2020 general election, officials in some states are still knee-deep in investigations of possible voter fraud. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, and the State Election Board has referred several batches of election law violations to state authorities for criminal prosecution.
In one case, an individual in Florida allegedly registered to vote in Georgia despite living out of state. In another, a South Carolina resident is accused of voting in two states during the 2018 general election. In the 2017 municipal elections, several voters allegedly used fraudulent addresses to register to vote.
“Fortunately, these individual cases aren’t large enough to change the outcome of a statewide election,” Raffensperger said. “Their prosecution is an example to others who may contemplate skirting the rules that protect election integrity in Georgia.”
Maintaining accurate and updated voter registration rolls helps officials find and prosecute cases of election fraud. The introduction and passage of U.S. House Democrats’ election overhaul bill, known as the For the People Act or H.R. 1, might set back states’ ability to keep voter lists updated. Some states have already adopted common-sense approaches to maintaining accurate rolls without disenfranchising voters. The measures not only can help prevent fraud but also increase Americans’ confidence in the outcome of elections.
“Keeping voter lists up to date and accurate is really important—and not nearly as partisan as the more extreme partisans would have you think,” said David Becker, the founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.
Most states adhere to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which prohibits unregistering voters simply for missing an election. States instead have to issue notices before removing a person from the list. They also cannot systematically remove ineligible voters in the 90 days leading up to a primary election or general election for federal office, except in cases such as the request of the voter, death, or a criminal conviction.
Becker and others support states sharing information about voters who have crossed state lines to keep lists accurate. H.R. 1 would not allow states to use cross-checks to maintain their voter registration rolls for up to six months before any primary election or federal general election. It would also prohibit third-party groups from having a role in the registration maintenance process.
In 2012, Becker helped start a nonprofit organization, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), that allows states to coordinate voter registration roll maintenance. It started with seven states and now has 30 states and the District of Columbia as members. The states share and have access to a highly secure data center that allows them to track motor vehicles department data, address changes from the postal service, and voter files.
Becker said third-party groups’ reliance on public data can create accuracy issues, but sometimes such groups can be the impetus behind states’ maintaining their rolls.
Noah Weinrich, spokesman for Heritage Action, said ending third party involvement doesn’t have a clear benefit: “It would prevent watchdog groups from saying, ‘we found these people are ineligible to vote.’ That job would instead rest on state and local officials who are so often underfunded … which is the reason these voter rolls have gotten so messy in the first place.”
Weinrich said if H.R. 1 was enacted, states could see an uptick in examples of out-of-state voting.
“It would introduce even more vulnerabilities,” he said. “Like we saw in the last election, some fraud that does occur, frankly, is not malicious, but H.R. 1 would make it harder to prevent or fix those mistakes.”
Two-thirds of all American voters live in states that participate in ERIC, Becker said. From 2016 to 2018, states removed around 17 million voters from registration lists, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Kentucky is a member of ERIC, but current regulations prevent the state from taking voters off lists if it is notified that someone has moved to another state.
“It’s an innocent error but it’s a big problem,” Secretary of State Michael Adams said.
In 2017, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch claimed in a lawsuit that the state had failed to remove ineligible voters in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. A judge agreed, ordering the state to clean up the voter rolls.
During his 2019 campaign for secretary of state, Adams promised to clean up the voter lists. Now the legislature is working on a bipartisan bill that would do just that, along with instituting other election reforms.
“There’s nothing aimed at some constituents here or some demographic. This is all fair-minded stuff. That’s why we’ve got support across the spectrum,” Adams said. “The whole point … is to increase public confidence and public confidence in the election. When half [of the population] feels like the other half is trying to get an advantage, that defeats the point.”
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