U.S. Voter Registration Rolls Are in Disarray, Pew Report Finds
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.
“These problems waste taxpayer dollars, undermine voter confidence and fuel partisan disputes over the integrity of our elections,” said David Becker, director of election initiatives at the center.
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.
Heather Gerken, a law professor at Yale, said the new report from Pew quantified and illuminated just how poorly the election system manages its most fundamental task.
“Until Bush v. Gore, election administration was the dirty little secret of elections,” she said, referring to the Supreme Court decision that delivered the 2000 election to George W. Bush after poorly run elections in Florida. “And registration has always been the dirty little secret of election administration.”
The flaws in the voter registration rolls have a disproportionately negative impact on mobile populations, including students and other young people, the poor and members of the military, the Pew report found.
“It’s not clear that it has a uniform partisan effect,” Nathaniel Persily, a law professor and political scientist at Columbia, said of those findings. But he added that “it is now pretty clear that Democrats want to enact measures that make voter registration easier, and Republicans fear that would be an invitation to fraud.”
The Pew report compared state voter registration lists with a database maintained by Catalist, a company that collects and sells information about voting-age Americans based on data from public and commercial sources.