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Election and Voting Rights News Roundup: Week of March 23, 2007

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This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.

Featured Stories of the Week:

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Elections officials play ghostbusters to keep eligible-voter rolls up to date – Winston-Salem Journal

WA reaches settlement on voter registration rule – Associated Press


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This week, the issue of voter list maintenance made a return in two news stories – one reporting a small North Carolina county's handling of dead voters on the rolls, the other concluding a long debate over a 2006 law barring citizens whose information didn't perfectly match government databases from registering to vote.

The Winston-Salem Journal provided in-depth coverage of the complicated, but important and oft-ignored election issue. Writer Monte Mitchell correctly notes that voter rolls with ineligible voters wastes money, skews turnout numbers and otherwise makes life difficult for election officials. Especially noteworthy was the Ashe County election supervisor’s statement that he feels “very confident that no dead people voted.”

Fortunately, the story avoids the misperception that inaccurate lists are an indication of voter fraud. The kind of organized voter fraud that makes use of dead voters ended decades ago with the demise of the patronage system, improved election administration and more serious penalties for election crimes.

States are required by the National Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act to develop specific standards for implementing a list maintenance program that is transparent, consistent and not discriminatory to safeguard voters from illegal and discriminatory purges. America has an unfortunate history in which eligible minority and immigrant voters have had a difficult time registering to vote and staying on the registration roles.

The rabid pursuit of legislation purporting to combat "voter fraud" continues to be a solution in search of a problem that is ultimately harmful to the most marginalized eligible voters. This legislation invariably creates a series of barriers to participation that, in effect, suppresses voter turnout among working class voters and voters of color. Such legislation was center-stage in Washington State this week.

WA reached a settlement involving a new law that was barred by a federal judge last year. The state will now allow the registration of eligible citizens who do not perfectly match identification information with state and federal databases. But, officials will flag their names and require additional information before their votes are counted. While it is a small victory for WA voters (especially women, students, low income and minority voters who often do not have updated information due to name and frequent residence changes), the modified law still puts the burden on the voter to be counted and assumes a problem of widespread voter fraud. Between 2002 and 2005, just 24 people were convicted of illegal voting, according to Project Vote report, The Politics of Voter Fraud.

It is worth repeating that voting itself is a right, not a privilege . Government at all levels has an obligation to help citizens exercise their rights, including the right to vote. After all, unlike others rights, such as speech, government controls all the mechanisms by which this right is exercised. Laws that create barriers to voting must prove that they are not hindering more legally eligible citizens from voting than they are catching ineligible voters. Ashe County took time to deal with voter rolls instead of creating a quick “solution” by keeping eligible voters off the rolls while providing no discernible ability to stop voter fraud - the reason WA state was taken to court in the first place.

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In Other News:

Election Day voter registration bill passed – Quad City Times

DES MOINES — Iowa would join seven states that allow voter registration on Election Day under a bill passed Tuesday by the Iowa House.

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Project Vote is the leading technical assistance and direct service provider to the civic participation community. Since its founding in 1982, Project Vote has provided professional training, management, evaluation (more...)

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