Keep­ing voter regis­tra­tion lists up to date

Los Angeles Times - - ESSENTIAL POLITICS - JOHN MY­ERS john.my­ers@la­times.com

SACRA­MENTO — Per­haps the big­gest take­away from Pres­i­dent Trump’s un­proven al­le­ga­tions about the se­cu­rity of elec­tions is that he’s man­aged to blur the dif­fer­ence be­tween vot­ing records and the act of vot­ing.

Or put an­other way, it’s a dis­trac­tion from re­solv­ing the chal­lenges in keep­ing voter regis­tra­tion data ac­cu­rate and up to date.

Trump waded into the topic last fall when he in­sisted mil­lions of fraud­u­lent votes had been cast in Cal­i­for­nia and two other states. No ev­i­dence of wide­spread chi­canery ex­isted then, nor has any been brought for­ward since. At times, it seemed the pres­i­dent was wrongly con­flat­ing fraud with a 2012 non­par­ti­san study that warned of prob­lems with some states’ voter regis­tra­tion lists.

Fast for­ward to last week, when a con­ser­va­tive le­gal group in­sisted that 11 Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties have more reg­is­tered vot­ers than vot­ing-age cit­i­zens. It re­fused to share its method­ol­ogy, and partly based its con­clu­sions on the coun­ties’ lists of “in­ac­tive” vot­ers — peo­ple who haven’t cast bal­lots in the last two statewide elec­tions.

Even the best regis­tra­tion list lives in a state of flux. Vot­ers die. They en­ter pri­son on a felony con­vic­tion and for­feit their right to vote. They move and don’t no­tify elec­tions of­fi­cials. Keep­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s lists ac­cu­rate be­came eas­ier with the launch of a long-awaited statewide voter data­base last year. Now, changes are quickly seen in all 58 coun­ties and data im­ported from state agen­cies helps more eas­ily flag prob­lems.

Some be­lieve Cal­i­for­nia might also re­think its re­fusal to join states shar­ing voter in­for­ma­tion through a non­profit called the Elec­tion Regis­tra­tion In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter. Cre­ated five years ago, it’s helped 20 states and the District of Columbia catch more than 6.5 mil­lion vot­ers who changed ad­dresses, plus 194,000 vot­ers who died. Cal­i­for­nia opted not to join the cen­ter, cit­ing ques­tions about its pri­vacy rules and the cost of pay­ing mem­ber­ship dues.

But the state’s new data­base could make the mul­ti­state con­sor­tium a valu­able tool. “We’re now in a much bet­ter place to en­ter­tain that,” Sec­re­tary of State Alex Padilla said last week.

Change might also be use­ful when it comes to paid voter regis­tra­tion drives. Tens of thou­sands of Cal­i­for­ni­ans are signed up by for-profit com­pa­nies hired by po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Crit­ics ar­gue that the ef­forts of­ten pro­duce flawed or false reg­is­tra­tions. Af­ter all, ven­dors get paid by the num­ber of voter cards they turn in.

Con­sis­tency is an is­sue, too, when it comes to purg­ing names off voter regis­tra­tion lists. County reg­is­trars have wide dis­cre­tion, and some worry about strik­ing too many names and deny­ing peo­ple a le­gal right to vote. But should there be a sin­gle, statewide stan­dard for th­ese lists of “in­ac­tive” vot­ers?

“It might help take the guess­work out of it,” said Kim Alexan­der, pres­i­dent of the non­par­ti­san Cal­i­for­nia Voter Foun­da­tion. Of course, any new man­date would re­quire the state to “pony up and pay the money,” she said.

In short, Cal­i­for­nia’s voter lists are un­doubt­edly bet­ter than they used to be. And that’s good, be­cause they’re go­ing to get tested in 2018. The state’s new au­to­mated voter regis­tra­tion process be­gins at DMV of­fices in April, and could boost voter rolls. Next year will see the first statewide use of the law al­low­ing voter regis­tra­tion on elec­tion day. And it’s the first elec­tion in which some coun­ties will opt to close polling places in fa­vor of ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

Know­ing who’s el­i­gi­ble to vote is im­por­tant. Though many elec­tions of­fi­cials think Trump’s un­founded fraud ac­cu­sa­tions will erode the pub­lic’s faith in vot­ing, the best an­ti­dote might be a fresh look at the lists of those signed up to cast bal­lots in the first place.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.