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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

3rd World Registration Nation

by David Atkins

The Pew Center on the Sates has a report that conservatives will be jumping all over to promote their vote suppression efforts:

The nation’s voter registration rolls are in disarray, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Center on the States. The problems have the potential to affect the outcomes of local, state and federal elections.

One in eight active registrations is invalid or inaccurate. At the same time, one in four people who are eligible to vote — at least 51 million potential voters — are not registered.

The report found that there are about 1.8 million dead people listed as active voters. Some 2.8 million people have active registrations in more than one state. And 12 million registrations have errors serious enough to make it unlikely that mailings based on them will reach voters.

So there's a lot of fraud, right? Well, no. Actually, it's just sloppiness that leads to vote suppression.

Mr. Becker warned that poor record keeping at the registration stage is not evidence of fraud at polling places. “These bad records are not leading to fraud but could lead to the perception of fraud,” he said.

What seems clear is that many people who are eligible to vote and want to do so fail because of flaws in the registration rolls. In 2008, roughly “2.2 million votes were lost because of registration problems,” according to a report from the Voting Technology Project of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

So what's the problem here? Well, it seems to be a uniquely American phenomenon among the major social democracies:

The United States differs from most other modern democracies in relying on a decentralized election administration system that places the burden of registration on voters rather than treating registration as a government responsibility.

“Part of the problem is that it is difficult for us to be proactive,” said Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s administrator of elections. “We have to rely on the voters.”

In Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Peru and Sweden, by contrast, the national government maintains its own registries of citizens eligible to vote, according to a 2009 report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Professor Gerken said difference between American and international practice helps explain many of Pew’s findings. “Everyone else in a modern democracy does it better,” she said, adding that the American system “is a silly way to run a railroad.”

It is also expensive. In 2008, for instance, Oregon spent $4.11 per active voter to process registrations. A 2001 study from the voting project found that local election offices spent a third of their budgets on registering voters.

Canada, by contrast, spent less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations — and 93 percent of eligible voters there are registered.

The registration process in the United States often involves handwritten forms, some collected by third parties. Those forms are then manually entered into an electronic system, a process bound to introduce flaws.

People who move, moreover, often take no steps to inform administrators at their old addresses, and a new registration does not typically result in a notification to cancel the previous one. Yet a quarter of all voters assume that their registrations automatically move with them, the report found.

As a consequence, active registrations in two states are common. Some 70,000 people are registered to vote in three or more states.

This is also a consequence of a distinctively American approach. “The United States is unique both in its requirement that voters re-register each time they move and in the high mobility of the population,” Professor Persily and Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard, wrote in a 2010 article, “Measuring Election System Performance,” in The New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy.

It's a pathetic system. The issue is a major headache for party officials, too. There are a large number of rules that govern candidate endorsement processes at the state and local levels. Many of these processes rely on proportional representation from Democratic clubs and central committees, which in turn require accurate lists of members cross-checked against the voter file. The number of errors is ridiculously high--usually due to voters who have moved to a new address but forgot to re-register to vote there, but often due to typographical errors or changes in status.

Voter registration should be an automatic function of other government-involved processes. It should be automatic and painless upon the signing of a new lease or mortgage, or any similar event.

Instead, the American system cherishes the "freedom" to have pathetic voter turnout, expensive and highly inefficient systems, mass confusion about registration status, inadequate record-keeping, and the easy ability of racist douchebags to blame the failures of the libertarian American system on nonexistent "fraud" in the inner cities of which they are terror-stricken. In fact, it sounds like the healthcare debate, doesn't it?

But I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free to be disenfranchised.