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A new survey of state laws and election officials shows that, on the eve of the 2008 general election, twenty states do not have laws, regulations or systems in place to properly implement a federally mandated 90-day pre-Election Day ban on systemic voter list purges. The survey, Vanishing Voters, was conducted during the summer of 2008 by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.
“In a close election, this is a potentially outcome changing problem,” said Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “Almost half the voters in the country, including voters in the battleground states of Nevada, Colorado, and Ohio, live in states where the rules are not enforced.”
The report notes that voters who are improperly dropped from the rolls are entitled to fill out provisional ballots on Election Day. However, in 2004 approximately 850,000 provisional ballots were not counted. The problem of provisional ballots could be reduced if voter rolls were properly maintained.
The study also found:
• Nine states claim that there is no deadline beyond which voters cannot be systematically dropped from the rolls, a direct contradiction of the terms of the NVRA.
• Five states have their own legal deadlines—all of which are less than the federally mandated 90 days.
• Twelve states do not have the proper systems in place for notifying voters who have been removed from the rolls if they are believed to have moved out of the precinct.
The survey included a review of relevant state laws and interviews with each Secretary of State’s office or other state office responsible for handling elections.
“Removing a legal voter from the rolls is a suspension of that voter's civil liberties,” said Brown. “The 90-day window for voter roll purges and notification requirements in the NVRA are essential safeguards that states must enforce in order to protect the rights of their citizens, ensure the legitimacy of elections, and encourage citizen participation.”
The report made several recommendations. Among the most important:
• States should assess their own compliance and immediately take steps to ensure they are following the law. States that are not currently complying with the NVRA should observe how other states’ have done so in order to transition to compliance in the most efficient way.
• Each state’s Secretary of State or chief election administrator should send a letter to election officers and local officials explaining and clarifying the rules.
• The Department of Justice must enforce the NVRA.
• States must properly train registration staff in order to reduce the likelihood of improper purging.
• States should be prohibited from purging a voter from the rolls unless his or her name, address, sex, and phone number match the person whom should be removed.
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