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"Fatal pending" Errors in CA Voter Registration Database: "Oops, you're disenfranchised. Our bad."

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On very short notice I was called today by KTVU (Fox TV Bay Area)
for an interview about state voter registration database "fatal pending" errors and implications for the Feb. 6 primary election.
KTVU is pooling their coverage of this topic sister station (and Fox affiliate) KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, and the story airs in both metro areas this evening.
In the Bay Area, KTVU (Ch. 2) will air a brief, initial version of the story at 6:00 pm tonight, followed by a more detailed version on the 10:00 pm edition.
The same is likely on the LA station.

The story arose because the KTVU reporter Roland De Wolk discovered by accident that his own name is on the "fatal pending" list -- even though he knows for a fact he is (or ought to be) registered.
"Fatal pending" is the term of art for a voter registration record that has been tagged by a county or state--rightly or wrongly--as invalid, meaning that any voter so labeled will be regarded as ineligible to cast a vote.
Voters whose records are tagged as "fatal pending" will not be mailed a sample ballot or any poll location directions, and their name will not appear in the voter registration book in the precinct on election day.
De Wolk's initial investigations show that there are 26,500 fatal pendings in LA County, 1,700 in Alameda Co., 2,300 in Solano Co. -- and although De Wolk has not completed a survey of all 58 counties, it appears there are at least 30,000 fatal pendings with three business days remaining to election day.
It will be interesting to see how the 26,500 fatal pendings are glossed in LA, where the news source interviewed for this story by KTTV was none other than Acting Registrar of Voters Dean Logan, former registrar Conny McCormack's handpicked successor. (You can read more about Mr. Logan's job qualifications here: ).

It appears that some counties are doing much better at checking the rolls and notifying voters.

Contra Costa reports they are down to just 3 fatal pendings, and Sonoma County reports zero.
Guidelines for implementing the state voter database say that election officials are supposed to attempt to notify voters identified for purging by phone or mail in sufficient time to enable voters to correct possible errors.
The most recent statement of voter database implementation procedures that reporter De Wolk could locate were labeled as interm woking papers dated May, 2007.
It's unclear at this writing whether a fatal pending error on the part of the state is a recoverable error for a victimized voter.
The deadline to register to vote in the California February 5th primary was midnight on January 22.

Information on the California Secretary of State website states:
"If a voter's name does not appear on the election roster at his or her polling place location, the person will be required to show proof of current residence in order to receive a provisional ballot.

Ballots for such voters are placed in provisional ballot envelopes. Each provisional ballot is researched by election officials. A provisional ballot is not counted unless the Elections Official establishes from the records in their office the claimants' right to vote prior to the completion of the official canvass, or by order of the Superior Court in the county of the voter's residence."

It would seem that the onus is on the voter to prove they've been wrongly purged from the voter rolls, but it's not clear whether there's enough time to effect this correction before the close of the election canvas period.
The status, standards, and procedures of the statewide central voter databases mandated by HAVA are probably the least known aspect of the voting process.

Even in California, which provides generally excellent public voting information compared to most states, the most current information the reporter was able to obtain about voter database correction procedure, was an interim report in progress dated May 2007.

The most comprehensive study to date on the subject of the centralized state voter database requirements imposed by HAVA (the "Help America Vote Act" of 2002) was issued more than a year ago and based on 2005 survey data. That study, called "Making the List" was produced by the Brennan Center of New York University.

The Brennan summary report is available for download at the EDA website:

Individual state reports from the Brennan study can be found in the individual state folders grouped in the 50 States Directory at

The best advice for voters?
Take nothing for granted. Phone your county elections department and demand to know whether you are listed on the voting rolls for the primary election.
Election day is too late to find out that you're not.
Oh-- and take photo ID with you to the polls, if you have it -- or a current utility bill or bank statement with your name and address printed, or some form of government-issued ID.
Thanks to technological advances, your right to vote is more in question than ever.
-- Dan Ashby

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The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected.
To take away this right is to reduce a
man to slavery. . . Thomas Paine


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Dan Ashby is a California election integrity activist and co-founder and director of Election Defense Alliance.
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