Amer­i­can kicked off voter rolls as nonci­t­i­zen

Con­fus­ing sys­tem re­sults in mis­take

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Mau­reen Erick­son’s hus­band was stunned to see his wife’s name ap­pear as key ev­i­dence in a report last month about peo­ple who had been kicked off Vir­ginia’s vot­ing rolls for be­ing nonci­t­i­zens.

In fact, Todd Erick­son said, his wife is an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, and while she does work as a mis­sion­ary in Gu­atemala, her can­cel­la­tion from Prince Wil­liam County’s voter rolls in 2012 was a mis­take re­sult­ing from the con­fus­ing voter regis­tra­tion sys­tem.

Her case is a timely warn­ing as the U.S. Supreme Court pre­pares to hear ar­gu­ments next term on how far states are al­lowed to go in purg­ing their voter rolls.

Ms. Erick­son’s name popped up when the Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion, a voter in­tegrity group, was push­ing for in­for­ma­tion from Vir­ginia to gauge how messy the state’s voter rolls are.

The Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion ob­tained records of ev­ery­one who had been reg­is­tered at one point but got kicked off voter rolls later af­ter hav­ing been de­clared nonci­t­i­zens.

State records showed more than 5,500 nonci­t­i­zens who had been reg­is­tered this decade but got kicked off the rolls be­cause they ad­mit­ted to be­ing in­el­i­gi­ble. Of those, 1,852 had man­aged to cast bal­lots.

One of the names that stood out was Ms. Erick­son’s. She voted in elec­tion af­ter elec­tion but was listed as liv­ing in Gu­atemala, and she got kicked off the rolls in 2012 af­ter in­di­cat­ing to the state that she was a nonci­t­i­zen.

When The Wash­ing­ton Times high­lighted her name last month, her hus­band, friends and neigh­bors con­tacted the pa­per, sur­prised

to see that she had been culled from the vot­ing lists.

Lo­gan Church­well, a spokesman for the Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion, said the group was us­ing Vir­ginia’s own vot­ing records, which did in fact can­cel her regis­tra­tion be­cause it deemed her a nonci­t­i­zen.

“For Erick­son to land on this list, she would have given con­tra­dic­tory claims of el­i­gi­bil­ity and, af­ter a pe­riod of of­fi­cial re­view and out­reach from the com­mon­wealth, failed to clar­ify her sta­tus,” Mr. Church­well said. “Whether she is le­git­i­mately reg­is­tered ‘now’ does not dis­count the fact that the com­mon­wealth deemed her oth­er­wise pre­vi­ously.”

He said it’s an is­sue for the state. Un­der the Na­tional Voter Regis­tra­tion Act, bet­ter known as the mo­tor-voter law, states were pushed to try to sign up more peo­ple to vote — in­clud­ing by ask­ing those who show up at their mo­tor ve­hi­cle bu­reaus to reg­is­ter. But states were also charged with keep­ing their voter rolls clean.

Those di­rec­tives some­times con­flict, and states are in­creas­ingly un­der pres­sure from both sides: ac­tivists who want to make vot­ing as easy as pos­si­ble, and in­tegrity ad­vo­cates who fear fraud­u­lent votes could skew elec­tions.

Repub­li­can-led states are in­creas­ingly push­ing for cleaner rolls, which means re­mov­ing names of those they be­lieve have died, moved out of the ju­ris­dic­tion or were never qual­i­fied in the first place.

Mil­lions of vot­ers are re­moved from states’ rolls ev­ery cy­cle.

For the 2013-2014 cy­cle, states erased 14.8 mil­lion names, ac­cord­ing to data from the U.S. Elec­tion As­sis­tance Com­mis­sion. From 2011 to 2012, the num­ber was 13.7 mil­lion.

The most com­mon rea­son was fail­ure to vote in suc­ces­sive elec­tions. Fol­low­ing that was the death of a voter or a move to another ju­ris­dic­tion.

Ohio has asked the Supreme Court to hear a case to re­in­state its method for clean­ing voter rolls. The state spots vot­ers who haven’t cast bal­lots in fed­eral elec­tions and no­ti­fies them they are in danger of be­ing culled from the lists. Vot­ers who don’t re­spond and don’t vote in sub­se­quent fed­eral elec­tions can be re­moved.

Jonathan Brater, a lawyer at the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice’s Democ­racy Pro­gram, said Ohio’s pol­icy is il­le­gal be­cause it is not trig­gered by any ev­i­dence that a voter has fallen out of sta­tus, but has only failed to vote.

“Voter list main­te­nance is im­por­tant. It’s some­thing they should do. But it needs to be done in a way that’s re­spon­si­ble,” he said.

Ms. Erick­son’s case is dif­fer­ent from the one in Ohio. She was purged be­cause she in­di­cated to the state that she was a nonci­t­i­zen.

Prince Wil­liam County was no­ti­fied by the state in July 2012, and that trig­gered an au­to­matic check. A let­ter was sent to the ad­dress Ms. Erick­son had on file with elec­tion of­fi­cials — in Gu­atemala.

“We did not re­ceive a re­sponse and, af­ter 14 days as pro­scribed by law, we re­moved her from the vot­ing roles,” said Win­ston For­rest, the elec­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor for the county.

Vir­ginia’s elec­tions com­mis­sioner, Edgardo Cortes, said he couldn’t talk about Ms. Erick­son’s case specif­i­cally but sug­gested her sit­u­a­tion isn’t shock­ing.

“It hap­pens all the time where peo­ple ac­ci­den­tally in­di­cate ‘no’ to ci­ti­zen­ship and either don’t re­ceive the let­ter or don’t re­turn it in time be­fore the re­moval hap­pens,” he said.

He said those are rea­sons that groups such as the Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion should be care­ful about read­ing too much into voter data about nonci­t­i­zens.

Mr. Cortes said elec­tions of­fi­cials ap­pear to have fol­lowed the law and that there is no need to change state laws. He said of­fi­cials should in­stead see whether there are less-con­fus­ing ways to ask the vot­ing ques­tions of those who show up at the DMV.

Mr. Erick­son said re­ly­ing on a no­tice sent to Gu­atemala to ver­ify Ms. Erick­son’s sta­tus was “a risk at best.”

“In short, we never re­ceived it and there­fore were not able to re­spond in time,” he said.

He said his wife didn’t re­spond to a ques­tion about ci­ti­zen­ship at the DMV, and he thinks that was what prompted the process that led to her re­moval. She has since moved her home in the U.S. to Loudoun County, and Mr. Erick­son says she is reg­is­tered to vote there.

He bris­tled at the Pub­lic In­ter­est Le­gal Foun­da­tion’s de­ci­sion to high­light his wife’s case.

“That is what hap­pened from our per­spec­tive. Mau­reen was born in the U.S. to U.S. cit­i­zens and has voted ever since she was 18,” he said in emails to The Times. “I think it is odd that they chose ‘Mau­reen Erick­son’ as their poster child for voter fraud. There was ob­vi­ously not much ad­di­tional re­search done on the per­son that they held up as an ex­am­ple of this il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity.”

Elec­tion of­fi­cials, though, say Ms. Erick­son didn’t just avoid a ques­tion; she also checked a box that in­di­cated she wasn’t a cit­i­zen.

Vir­ginia now uses an elec­tronic ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tem that Mr. Cortes said he hopes will cut down on some of the con­fu­sion.

Mr. Brater, the lawyer at the Bren­nan Cen­ter, said Ms. Erick­son’s sit­u­a­tion un­der­scores the need for a pub­lic no­tice of some kind be­fore some­one is stricken from the rolls. He also cau­tioned against read­ing too much into re­ports about fraud.

“The fact that there are out­dated voter rolls doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean any il­le­gal vot­ing is oc­cur­ring,” he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mau­reen Erick­son, a Vir­ginia res­i­dent and Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, wouldn’t have been able to vote if her hus­band hadn’t no­ticed a mis­take that kicked her off the state’s vot­ing rolls. Her name was purged af­ter she listed her ad­dress in Gu­atemala.

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