20% of All 18-year Olds Omitted -- Data Entry Failure for
Last-Minute Registration Forms to Blame
By Bev Harris: Part 2A of a 5-part series on voter list data
There is still time to correct these problems by 2012. This story is not just about Shelby County, Tennessee, where I believe the elections commission is competently addressing these problems for 2012. Last-minute dumps of new voter registration forms was a national problem in 2008, and across America voters reported that when they showed up to vote, their name was missing from the list.
The 2008 presidential election brought millions of new voters to the polls, with enthusiasm especially high among youth and minority voters. Yet in Shelby County (the home of the great city of Memphis), over 15,000 voters, disproportionately young or Black voters, were omitted from the list of valid voters at the time of early voting; by Election Day, the names finally made it to the list.
These omissions correlate with an influx of last-minute voter registration forms. This study highlights the importance of third-party registration groups promptly submitting new registration forms. In some states, 48-hour submission is now a legal requirement, with somewhat draconian fines for failure to comply. Regardless of whether prompt submission is the law, it is important to emphasize the need to educate voter registration groups to promptly submit new registration forms. Like taking checks to the bank for your employer; like an insurance agent who must promptly submit forms for those he insures; like a real estate agent who has to submit bids immediately, voter registration groups have a fiduciary-like duty to the voter, who has every reason to believe they will be registered timely after signing forms and entrusting them to a responsible person.
In Memphis, approximately 30,000 new registration forms
flowed in during the last five weeks before the 2008 presidential election.
Only half of these made it onto the voter list by the start of early voting.
Apparently, the number of new forms being submitted was greater than they could
enter into the database on time.
OMISSION OF VALID VOTERS FROM "WHO CAN VOTE" LISTS
In 2008, Actor Tim Robbins showed up to vote in New York, and was told he was not on the list. After asserting his right to vote, his registration was eventually located and he was allowed to vote a normal ballot.(1)
Reports flowing in to Black Box Voting indicate that the "Tim Robbins" problem happened all over America. In fact, it happened right next to me. When I went to vote, the woman beside me was told she was not on the voter list. She was deaf, and the poll worker made no attempt to explain anything comprehensible to her, so I assisted. Instead of telling her to vote a provisional ballot, the poll worker told her to register and come back next year. After I asserted her right to vote a provisional ballot, the poll worker found her registration after all and she was allowed to vote a normal ballot.
*Registered voters who are told they are not on the voter list may vote a "provisional ballot", an important right, but provisionals are second-class ballots. Provisional ballots are examined after the election and if deemed legitimate, are counted. Unfortunately, poll worker errors sometimes cause these ballots to be rejected; also, poll workers sometimes fail to inform voters of their right to provisional ballots; and provisional ballots are not factored in to Election Night winner projections.
We have not been able to learn much about how these errors take place, or quantify how many people were left off the lists. Until now. I obtained 87 Shelby County voter lists from 2006 through 2010. Examining these lists reveals a staggering scope of voter list omissions. Two and a half percent -- 15,199 total voters -- were left off the early voting list. Of these, 9,080 weren't submitted until the last day of registration.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTING IN ELECTIONS
As a self-governing people, we have the right to authenticate the basic accounting in our own elections. The most essential parts of this accounting are:
1. Who can vote (the voter list)
2. Who did vote (the participating voter list) 3. Chain of custody 4. The count