Latest News

Voting rights center says voters may be prevented from casting ballots

WASHINGTON—Leaders of a voting-rights center that successfully sued Florida, Washington, Ohio and other states over their election laws said Wednesday that tens of thousands of eligible voters will be prevented from casting ballots in November.

Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, said federal and state voting changes since the disputed 2000 presidential election have produced new threats to eligible voters.

Several states have overreacted to the 2002 Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress to prevent a repeat of the 2000 stalemate, by passing draconian laws and imposing rigid regulations on voter registration, Waldman said.

"Most of the significant voter suppression in this country happens not on Election Day, but before Election Day," he said.

Waldman cited serious problems in a dozen states:

_California, Florida, Washington, Missouri and other states have passed laws limiting the ability of churches, unions, the League of Women Voters and other nonprofit groups to conduct voter-registration drives.

_California, Florida, Washington and other states are using rigid standards in matching voter-registration information with driver's licenses or Social Security numbers.

_Florida, Washington, Kentucky and other states have removed eligible voters from their registration lists in aggressive purges meant to remove felons, deceased voters or duplicate names.

"These are not merely bad practices," Waldman said. "They are illegal. They violate the Constitution or they violate (federal) election law."

Many of the problems stem from the states' attempts to comply with the 2002 federal election-reform law. The law requires states to create centralized databases of registered voters and gives them money to buy electronic voting equipment.

About 80 percent of all ballots cast Nov. 7 across the country will be made or tabulated via computer.

Waldman said that while the electronic machines eliminate the "hanging chad" problems of punch-out ballots, the machines are susceptible to hacking and have other security problems. He said only Minnesota and New York have taken adequate steps to ensure their equipment's security.

A report by three lawyers with the Brennan Center praised four states for using practices that help people register and vote: New York, Minnesota, Nebraska and Oregon.

Elections officials in several of the states criticized by the center strongly disputed its claims.

"Our statewide database is designed to assure that all voters will be able to vote and have those votes counted, period," said Nghia Nguyen Demovic, a spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

Demovic said the state is working with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in a drive to register 250,000 voters and is partnering with other organizations.

Sterling Ivey, communications director for the Florida Department of State, said the state changed its rules for groups that conduct voter-registration drives because of problems in 2002 and 2004. Some of them, he said, held registration cards until the last day for registering, even though many voters had signed the cards weeks or months earlier.

Ivey said the state uses four different databases to verify addresses, confirm the applicants' ages and whether they're alive, check for criminal convictions and see whether the governor has restored voting rights to felons.

"We are constantly performing list maintenance, but there has not been any concentrated effort to purge the rolls of eligible voters," Ivey said.

In Olympia, Wash., Secretary of State Sam Reed said his state now requires groups conducting voter-registration drives to turn in cards weekly.

"We had some really bad experiences where voters would be disenfranchised because these folks put the cards in the trunk of their cars or in the back rooms of their offices and hadn't gotten around to turning them in," Reed said. "By requiring that they turn them in once a week, we're trying to ensure a little more integrity to this process. ...

"If you would ask anybody, the state of Washington has a well-earned reputation as being one of the most open states in the nation in terms of registration and voting," he added.

Wendy Weiser, a lawyer for the Brennan Center, said Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo sued his state's top elections official, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, over alleged purges of registration lists.

Les Fugate, communications director for Grayson, said Wednesday that Kentucky had taken legal action to clean up the registration rolls to prevent ineligible voters from participating in state elections.

"Kentucky believes in a balance between access and protection from voter fraud, and we believe that Kentucky has the right balance," Fugate said.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Need to map