All posts by Project Vote

States Move to Create Culture of Voter Engagement through Preregistration

By Erin Ferns

The rising levels of voter participation among the nation’s youth continue to be challenged by the current voter registration system, perpetuating the difficulty of fostering lifelong voters. Some states are proposing to take this challenge into their own hands by making voter registration accessible to citizens as young as 16. Already widely accessible at schools and departments of motor vehicles, the move would allow future voters in some states to automatically be enrolled on the voter rolls on their 18th birthdays, a change that advocates say could “close the registry gap between young voters and the rest of the population.”  

California and Rhode Island are among the states that have introduced legislation permitting 16- and 17-year-old citizens to register to vote in advance of their 18th birthdays. Rhode Island bills, SB 85 and HB 5005 show promise to pass the legislature – a prospect that is nothing new to the state, which has passed such bills three years in a row only to have them vetoed by the governor, according to research and advocacy group, Fair Vote.

“It’s good public policy to get young people involved as early as possible in the democratic process,” said Fair Vote Rhode Island Director Matt Sledge in Brown University’s Daily Herald last week. The preregistration bill, he said, would “close the registry gap between young voters and the rest of the population.”

Today, multiple states allow certain citizens under age 18 to preregister to vote, including Rhode Island and California. However, Hawaii and Florida are the only states to have enacted dedicated preregistration laws that permit all citizens as young as 16 to register to vote, which advocates argue is the best way to incorporate youth into the democratic process.

Institutionalizing preregistration not only makes it easier to conduct and participate in voter registration activities on high school campuses and DMVs since it captures more young people before they graduate, but it also helps “boost the effectiveness of civics education by tying it directly to civic participation through the opportunity to preregister,” according to a Fair Vote report. The report further notes that “uniform” preregistration laws, like those in Hawaii and Florida, help alleviate general voter registration ills by acting as a “cost-effective step toward greater standardization, which means a cleaner, more accurate data set. Pre-registration could also save money and minimize human error by allowing students to register year round at points of civic engagement and education…”

Advocates say California is a prime place to engage and enfranchise its diverse population, which is “especially apparent in high schools today.” According to a 2007 proposal for preregistration in California by the public policy group, New America Foundation, “if young people are not hooked into democratic institutions and practices while they’re in high school, it becomes more difficult to do so after they leave high school.”

The group emphasized that young people become more difficult to “contact or engage” directly after high school, resulting in a “‘disengagement cycle’ that becomes increasingly difficult to break. High school, in many cases, is the final opportunity to fully engage young people about participating in our democracy. Having common sense practices for engaging young people in high school is crucial. One of the most effective efforts is to lower the age for voter registration to sixteen.”

Although California has yet to pass a bill to lower the voter registration age to 16, there is still an effort underway. Last week, preregistration bill AB 30 was reported favorably out of committee last week. It is now pending in the Assembly committee on Appropriations.

California and Rhode Island also show that they are on the right track toward engaging young people by mandating schools to serve as voter registration agencies or to facilitate drives on campus, both effective ways to facilitate civic engagement through education. The next step is to combine those good laws with legislation to lower the “effective engagement age” in order to capture more future voters while helping standardize the voter registration system in general.

Rhode Island senator and sponsor of SB 85, Rhoda Perry agrees that preregistration would “get more people involved in the civic process,” the Brown Daily Herald reported. The only problem with the bill, she said, is that “the governor vetoes it.” There is hope for future voters in Rhode Island, however, as preregistration is increasing gaining support in the legislature, a change that Perry said may be just enough to override the governor’s veto.

To monitor youth voting bills in these states, visit www.electionlegislation.orgor subscribe to the weekly Election Legislation digest, featuring election bills in all 50 states, by emailing Erin Ferns at eferns [at]  

Voters Eager to Have A Stake in Historical Election: Early Voting Predicts Strong Turnout Tuesday

Cross-posted at Project Vote’s blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

In the last two weeks voter registration and early voting has shown that voters are geared up and ready to take part in what has been called a “historical event” on November 4.

Last week, voters scrambled to register at drive-thru election office windows in Southern California, busy street corners in Wichita, Kansas, and post-naturalization ceremonies in Los Angeles County. These efforts to meet the Oct. 20 registration deadlines in some states are seen as evidence of a surge in voter registration among historically underrepresented communities, including newly naturalized Latino and Asian citizens, and Black voters as well as formerly disenfranchised ex-felons.

This week, early vote turnout gave a sneak peek at what voters and election officials can expect at the polls on Tuesday, and it’s “going to be busy as heck” said one official in Orange County, Calif., where registration rates went up 15 percent since 2004. To accommodate the high turnout, which is expected to exceed “the recent high-water mark in voter participation set in 2004,” some states are taking precautionary measures, adding new machines and even extending early voting.

Experts predict “huge turnout” of as much as 132 million people, or 60.4 to 62.9 percent of eligible voters this year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The last presidential election brought 60.7 percent of eligible voters to the polls, “the highest since 1968, when 61.9 percent cast ballots.” Election officials in many states, including Ohio, Arizona, New Mexico, and Minnesota, have predicted turnout as high as 80 percent.

“We are going to have long lines,” with some states expecting voting machine shortages, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. “But long lines in this election, as in 2004, are not going to deter people from voting, because of the emotional context of this election. They didn’t deter people in 1992 or in 2004, and they’re not going to deter people now.”

Managing long lines has already been a point of contention in key states. In Georgia, voters waited four to five hours to cast early ballots on Wednesday, in spite of last minute changes Tuesday to reduce the eight hour waits voters encountered on Monday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. A combination of “high turnout, staff and equipment shortages and state computer problems slowed the process.”

Like Gans predicted, however, these issues are not stopping voters from showing up at the polls bright and early.

“It’s a historical event and I want to be part of it,” said Hampton, Ga. voter, Dara Christian, who arrived at her precinct to be second in line shortly after 5 a.m. on Wednesday. According to a Tuesday AJC report, a million ballots had already been cast during more limited voting in the last few weeks. And about 125,095 of those were cast as of Tuesday night.

While officials in various counties addressed some of the problems by supplying extra equipment and staff, according Tuesday’s AJC report, the Democratic Party and election officials are still pleading with Secretary of State Karen Handel to extend early voting in order to support high turnout, including state Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kidd and DelKalb County Commissioner Lee May.

“It is not my intention to lay blame on any particular, person or body of government,” May wrote in a letter to Handel and Ga. Governor Sonny Perdue. “It is my desire that we don’t inadvertently squelch the desire of so many Georgians to participate in the political process.”

“Handel said Tuesday that Georgia law doesn’t include a mechanism to allow her or Perdue to extend early voting,” according to AJC. Handel said that even if she could allow the extension, it would be a “logistical disaster,” dismissing Kidd’s plea an “orchestrated effort of that political party across the country.”

In Florida, on the other hand, after record turnout Monday,Governor Charlie Crist listened to similar concerns and signed an order to extend early voting hours  to 12 hours a day, over the objections of Secretary of State Kurt Browning, according to the Miami Herald.

“It’s not a political decision,” said Crist, a Republican. “It’s a people decision.”

In Broward and Miami-Dade counties alone, more than 43,000 people cast their votes Monday, “roughly 5,000 more than on any other previous day.”

Other efforts to help ensure Election Day runs smoothly for voters are underway, including the National Campaign for Fair Elections’ hotline, 1-866-OURVote. The line has already received up to 4,000 calls a day, according to New York Times blog, The Caucus. The group plans to have 20 call centers set up around the country by Tuesday with a capacity of handling 100,000 calls on Election Day.

“The notion behind the non-partisan National Campaign phone line is that if problems erupt at polling places on Election Day, the group will have lawyers at the ready to respond to the complaints,” the Times reports.

“So far, most calls have been from voters experiencing problems with their registration along with those trying to locate their polling place, according to Ken Smukler, president of InfoVoter Technologies, the Bala Cynwyd, that which manages the call system.”

Among those who will benefit from the voter protection hotline and other precautions learned are the large numbers of new voters around the country. Since 2004, voter registration rose 15 percent in Orange County, Calif. where citizens were allowed to register at a drive-thru elections office window last week, according to the Associated Press. Alabama has 76,000 new voters since 2004, two thirds of whom are African-American, according to the Mobile Register-Press. Last week, two thousand voters registered on a street corner in Kansas, about a quarter of whom were ex-felons who until then thought they were ineligible to vote, according to MSNBC. Newly naturalized Latino and Asian citizens in Los Angeles County doubled last year’s registration rate with 64,000 new voters this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Up until last week, community groups were “walking precincts, conducting phone banks, holding forums, and distributing multilingual voter guides” to help new citizens become a part of the democratic process.

Historically, Latino, Asian, and African-American citizens have registered and voted at alarmingly lower rates than their White counterparts. In 2006, just 41 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Asians and Latinos, respectively, voted in the midterm election compared to 52 percent of Whites, according to Project Vote report, Representational Bias of the 2006 Electorate.  But that may just be changing this year.

“We want people to know we’re here and our next generation is going to be very important in the process,” said recently naturalized citizen, Carlos Romero in the Los Angeles Times.

In Other News:

In Ohio, Wary Eyes On Election Process: Fears of Fraud and Blocked Votes – Washington Post

CLEVELAND — With Ohio still up for grabs in next week’s presidential election, the conversation here has expanded from who will carry the state to how — the nitty-gritty of registration lists, voting machines, court challenges and whether it all will play out fairly.

Provisional Ballots Get Uneven Treatment – Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON — Provisional ballots, one of the fixes the government implemented following the disputed 2000 election, are often proving to be a poor substitute for the real thing.

Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote.

Project Vote & ACORN Complete Historic 1.3 Million Card Voter Registration Drive

Over 1.3 million new low-income, minority, and young Americans registered nationwide!

Yesterday, as voter registration deadlines passed in most states, Project Vote, the nation’s leading nonpartisan voter participation organization, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the country’s largest community organization, held a news conference to announce the completion of a joint nonpartisan voter registration drive, which has succeeded in helping over 1.3 million Americans register to vote. To listen to the conference in its entirety, please click here

The joint effort, which Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater described as “the largest and most comprehensive drive in the history of our two organizations”, was conducted in a total of 21 states, with the largest efforts focusing on 16 states, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, Fl, KY, LA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NM, OH, PA, TX, and WI. While final numbers were still being tallied, Slater said that the largest state-by state successes included:

–over 148,000 in Pennsylvania,

–152,000 registrations in Florida,

–over 217,000 in Michigan, and

–over 238,000 in Ohio.

The goal of the nonpartisan voter registration drive-estimated to cost $18 million-was to help close the existing gaps in the American electorate, particularly among low-income Americans, minorities, and youth, all of whom have historically been underrepresented at the polls.

According to Bertha Lewis, Interim Chief Organizer of ACORN, the majority of the 1.3 million registrants are low- to-moderate income people, 60-70 percent are African American or Latino, and over half are under the age of 30. Lewis said the ultimate goal was to change the face of the electorate and permanently empower the Americans who are most affected by policy decisions.

“We think it is important that the voices in our community get heard,” said Lewis. “This isn’t just about going into the voting booth, but it’s actually about strengthening democracy and instilling an ongoing commitment to effect real change.”

This Election Day is expected to see record turnout at the polls, and ACORN board member Carmen Arias, a longtime voting rights advocate, confirmed that the energy and enthusiasm this year is at an all-time high.

“In 2004 we were met with apathy,” Arias said. “We had to convince people to register to vote. This year we were met with excitement: people are excited to have an opportunity to have a say in solving the foreclosure crisis, and the healthcare crisis. They’re eager to have politicians listen to them.”

Slater and Lewis both agreed that empowering voters to have their voices heard by their political leaders is what it’s all about. “Our belief, fundamentally, is that by expanding the electorate, by changing its profile, we will get candidates who will start to appeal to those new voters,” said Slater. “The idea isn’t to assist, whether overtly or covertly, the election of any single candidate, but to force candidates to take into account the interests of Americans who have not historically participated in as high rates as others and to start pursuing policies and programs that are more responsive to their needs.”

Responding to questions, Lewis rejected the suggestion that the nonpartisan voter registration drive had a hidden partisan agenda, and emphasized the importance of empowering low-income communities and working families that have too long been ignored or taken for granted by both political parties.

“All of these politicians, I don’t care who they are-republicans, democrats, all of them-they need to compete for our vote and they need to be accountable,” Lewis said. “Because after the election, whoever gets in there has to deal with us.”

Project Vote also announced that they are conducting efforts to make sure that everyone who attempted to register actually gets on the rolls. Project Vote lead counsel Brian Mellor explained that the organization took a random sampling of ACORN registrations in nine states, covering 14 counties, and checked to make sure the applicants had in fact been added to the voter lists.

“We were happy to find that it appears that most applicants that ACORN submitted and verified appeared to be getting on the rolls,” said Mellor. “However, we do still see systematic problems,” particularly with state database matching requirements. “There is lots of evidence out there that database matching produces a lot of false negatives, with people who are legitimate voters not getting matched.”

“There are still thousands of Americans who believe they have completed a voter registration application and are registered to vote, but in fact are not,” said Mellor, who explained that many registrations are rejected due to incomplete information, confusing application forms, or address problems. Many would-be voters, in fact, may not discover they have been rejected until they arrive at the voting booth.

To give applicants an opportunity to repair their registrations in time to cast a ballot on November 4, Project Vote is conducting a program to acquire lists of rejected applications from boards of election and then to contact the voters by mail or by phone to inform them of their need to re-register.

To assist in this effort, Project Vote has launched a website,, which provides lists of voters in several states for people to check and see if they or their friends and neighbors have been left off the voter rolls due to common registration problems.

In his opening remarks Slater pointed out that the American system of voter registration-with few federal standards, and in which the burden of registration is placed on individuals-has often been used to disenfranchise voters.

“It wasn’t until the civil rights era that restrictive voter registration laws, challenged by protestors risking physical violence and even death, began to fall,” said Slater. “Today, the attacks on voter registration drives are more rhetorical than physical, but the point of contention is the same: the ability of Americans of color to cast a ballot.

“The work of Project Vote and ACORN continues a tradition of ensuring that all Americans can vote,” Slater said.

For more information on this and on the various Election Protection and voting rights work going on in the run-up to the election please contact:

Lacy MacAuley, [email protected], for Project Vote

Charles Jackson, [email protected], for ACORN

Veterans Advocates Skeptical Of New V.A. Registration Policies

Cross-posted at Project Vote’s blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

We recently wrote about the Department of Veterans Affairs decision to open its facilities to voter registration drives after months of urging by voting rights groups and elected officials. This week, however, “VA voter suppression continues,” as AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld wrote Tuesday, with voter registration efforts being blocked in California and the VA general counsel criticizing the pending Veterans Voting Support Act (S. 3308), which would bolster federal protection of voter registration opportunities for all wounded veterans. With just three weeks left to register voters in most states, advocates say now is the time to support voter registration efforts in VA facilities and, most importantly, it needs to be explicitly protected from now on through federal law.

“Credibility of VA on this issue is very low right now,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. during a hearing on the Veterans Voting Support Act on Monday, according to Rick Maze of the Army Times. VA general counsel Paul Hutter says that the VA is being “proactive” in working with election officials and nonprofit groups to facilitate voter registration, but that “VA still believes that some limits are needed.”

These limits were enforced this week at a San Francisco VA facility when the nonprofit group Veterans for Peace was blocked from helping register voters in time for the 2008 presidential election. According to Rosenfeld, the group filed a legal motion in California federal court Monday, claiming that VA was trying to require Veterans for Peace members to go through the same screening process that VA volunteers must go through – a process that would delay registration efforts. “In contrast, the VA does not require screening for most other visitors,” Rosenfeld says.

Citing testimony from the Senate Rules and Administration hearing on S. 3308, the motion notes that of the 5.5 million patients in VA facilities, volunteers registered only 350 patients and 64 outpatients. “Those statistics show the VA’s internal process of screening volunteers who are then approved to register voters has had the effect of suppressing the vote of injured veterans in 2008,” writes  Rosenfeld.

As VA voter registration is administered solely at the whim of the VA itself, advocates warn that, without a federal mandate to provide voter registration and information to the nation’s wounded veterans, their right to vote could easily be lost. “VA can easily reverse course, again, and issue another policy banning voting assistance,” or could “easily fail to implement their new policy,” says Veterans for Common Sense executive director and S. 3308 supporter, Paul Sullivan.

Hutter claims a broad interpretation of the proposed law would open VA facilities as a voter registration agency to the public, potentially disrupting VA facilities and invading privacy of patients. Feinstein says that the intent of the bill is not to serve the public and that she is willing to make amendments.

“However, she did not see disruption as a major problem,” Maze writes, “because setting up a voter registration drive could be as simple as putting a table in the lobby of a hospital or clinic.”

In a recent New York Times report announcing the new VA policy, writer Ian Urbina quotes Sen. Feinstein: “Given the sacrifices that the men and women who have fought in our armed services have made, providing easy access to voter registration services is the very least we can do.”

The companion bill to S. 3308, H.R. 6625 passed the House by voice vote on Wednesday.

Quick Links:

S 3308: Veterans Voting Support Act

Senate Committee on Rules and Administration

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

H.R. 6625: Veterans Voting Support Act

Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Penn.

Veterans for Peace

Veterans for Common Sense

In Other News:

Voter Database Glitches Could Disenfranchise Thousands – Wired

Electronic voting machines have been the focus of much controversy the last few years. But another election technology has received little scrutiny yet could create numerous problems and disenfranchise thousands of voters in November, election experts say.

Ohio Republicans Use Lawsuit To Fight for State’s Crucial Votes – Wall Street Journal

The Ohio Republican Party spearheaded a lawsuit Friday over a directive from the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that would allow some early voters to register and vote on the same day.

Democrats accuse state GOP of hypocrisy – Wisconsin State Journal

Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke said Monday it was hypocritical for Republicans to defend mistakes in their mailing databases while pursuing a lawsuit over the state’s flawed voter registration system.

ACLU: Mississippi felons denied voting rights – Associated Press

JACKSON – Convicted felons in Mississippi are denied their constitutional right to vote in presidential elections, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges in a federal lawsuit filed Friday.

Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote’s Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).

Wired Magazine: “Voter Database Glitches Could Disenfranchise Thousands”

Cross-posted to Project Vote’s blog Voting Matters.

By Nathan Henderson-James

Today Wired Magazine published an in-depth look at potential Election Day problems associated with voter registration data matching, list maintenance, provisional ballots, and shadowy interstate compacts through which member states cross-check their voter registration lists and purge supposedly duplicated voters. Titled “Voter Database Glitches Could Disenfranchise Thousands”, the piece, written by Kim Zetter, starts this way,

Electronic voting machines have been the focus of much controversy the last few years. But another election technology has received little scrutiny yet could create numerous problems and disenfranchise thousands of voters in November, election experts say.

This year marks the first time that new, statewide, centralized voter-registration databases will be used in a federal election in a number of states.

The article presents an in-depth discussion of the potential problems associated with the creation of the centralized databases and their potential to disenfranchise thousands of newly and currently registered voters in state after state.  

But election experts say the real concern is how states are conducting database matches of new voters under HAVA.

The law requires each voter to have a unique identifier. Since 2004, new registration applicants have had to provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number to register (voters who don’t have them are assigned a unique number by the state). States are required to try to authenticate the numbers with motor vehicle records and the Social Security Administration database.

But databases are prone to errors such as misspellings and transposed numbers, and applicants are prone to make mistakes or write illegibly on applications. The Social Security Administration has acknowledged that matches between its database and voter-registration records have yielded a 28.5 percent error rate.

Disturbingly, despite these kinds of error rates, several states have joined secretive interstate compacts that allow them to share their registration databases with each other and purge voters who supposedly show up on more than one list.

[Project Vote Executive Director Michael] Slater cites another troubling trend emerging with the implementation of statewide databases.

Several states have begun comparing databases for duplicate records of existing voters, then purging voters they believe have moved and registered in another state. The problem, Slater says, is the methods used can yield false positives, and officials are deleting voters without contacting them to verify that they’ve moved, or waiting for two federal election cycles to pass, which are requirements under the National Voter Rights Acts of 1993.

In 2006, Kentucky’s attorney general successfully sued his state’s board of elections after officials compared their list to ones from South Carolina and Tennessee and purged about 8,000 voters who appeared to have registered in those states at a later date than their registration in Kentucky and were presumed to have moved.

Project Vote is investigating Kansas, Louisiana and South Dakota for similar activity. Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska have also been comparing lists.

"That is a trend that will accelerate, but there are inadequate safeguards, and I think it’s very, very dangerous," Slater says.

For more information, Project Vote has created materials on database matching, maintaining voting rolls, provisional ballots, and voter ID requirements.

V.A. Caves To Pressure To Allow Voter Registration Drives On-Site

Cross-posted to Project Vote’s blog, Voting Matters.

By Nathan Henderson-James

Last week the Department of Veterans Affairs, bowing to months of pressure from voting rights groups and elected officials, revised its rules concerning voter registration drives to allow such activities if certain conditions were met.

As reported by Steve Rosenfeld at Alternet, the announcement allows groups onto some VA properties to assist veterans in registering to vote.

"The Department will welcome state and local election officials and non-partisan groups to its hospitals and outpatient clinics to assist VA officials in registering voters," the VA said in a Sept. 8 news release. "Such assistance, however, must be coordinated by those facilities in order to avoid disruptions in patient care."

Questions remain, however, about the ability of the VA to implement this rule change in time to help veterans register in time for the November elections. Again, here’s Rosenfeld.

But voting rights advocates said the new VA policy, while moving in the right direction, was announced so near to the close of voter registration for this November — which in half the states is four weeks away — that it may have little impact this fall. During the past four months, when many of 2008’s voter registration drives occurred, the VA has banned voter registration efforts by non-profit groups and local or state election officials.

According to Ian Urbina writing in the New York Times, over "100,000 people reside for a month or longer at V.A. facilities nationally, a number that has grown as soldiers return wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." He also quotes Sen. Feinstein,

“Given the sacrifices that the men and women who have fought in our armed services have made, providing easy access to voter registration services is the very least we can do,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who introduced legislation in July to reverse the V.A. ban. Ms. Feinstein added that she would soon hold hearings on the issue.

Last Friday five advocacy groups sent a letter to Sen. Feinstein in support of her proposed legislation.

Nathan Henderson-James is the Director of Project Vote’s Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).

Stopping Voter Suppression: The Press Gets It Right in Virginia

Cross-posted at Project Vote’s blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns and Nathan Henderson-James

We spend a lot of time in these news updates showing how charges of voter fraud are used to discredit voter participation efforts and prime the pump for voter suppression efforts, such as the passage of voter ID bills, pushing for proof of citizenship, engaging in draconian voter purge efforts, and imposing sever restrictions on voter registration drives. We have also spent a lot of time carefully delineating the politics behind these efforts, starting with our March 2007 report The Politics Of Voter Fraud and continuing on in these diaries to name but two venues.  

What is striking about how the process of disenfranchisement and voter suppression works is how much it relies upon the media to repeat and amplify the breathless and hyperbolic accusations of so-called voter fraud against voter registration drives. If journalists were to spend any time at all investigating the sensational claims – often made by people with a direct partisan interest in the outcome of an election –  they would find that the accusations are mostly taken out of context, are limited to a few instances, and have never, ever, been proven to have resulted in any fraudulent vote being cast.

Sadly, the history of this issue shows that it has been bereft of this kind of basic journalism, even through the 2006 mid-term elections. This is important because haphazard reporting of partisan claims of voter fraud without checking the facts is how the media helps these voter suppression efforts. These stories not only deter potential voters from getting on the rolls, but, as noted above, inspire bad election reforms aimed at disenfranchising voters, particularly those that are currently underrepresented in the electorate.

A prime example of this kind of lazy journalism in recent weeks comes from Las Vegas where local reporters simply repeated accusations of fraud made by the Clark County clerk against ACORN without even bothering to contact ACORN to see how their drive was being managed.  

The group’s registration drive has reached one million voters nationwide [Full disclosure – it is run under a Joint Effort Agreement with Project Vote. ed.] and, according to one article, election officials see “rampant fraud” in the 2,000 3,000 cards submitted by the group each week in Las Vegas. This week, the Associated Press reported that the state set up a “voter fraud task force” to look for “election irregularities and instances of questionable voter registration and intimidation,” directly citing issues with voter registration drives.  Neither of these Nevada reports provided the facts of voter fraud, what it is and how it relates to the voter registration process. Most importantly, neither reports cite real examples of the intentional casting of an illegal ballot – the real definition of voter fraud – in the state.

However, it may be that the hard work Project Vote and others – including the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, DEMOS, and the Advancement Project – have engaged in over the past few years debunking the voter fraud myth is beginning to change the way journalists approach these stories.

This week, several publications broke this trend by debunking recent Virginia GOP allegations of widespread voter fraud as a result of massive voter registration drives that primarily target youth, low income and minority communities – constituencies that have a long history of being underrepresented on the voting rolls and in the voting booth.

Since the beginning of the year, an unprecedented 147,000 people – “almost half under the age of 25” – registered to vote in Virginia, according to Monday’s Washington Post lead editorial. Pointing to a recent incident where three members of the Community Voting Project were arrested for falsifying voter registration cards, Republican Party chairman, Del. Jeffrey Frederick of Prince William County claims widespread voter fraud is a hidden agenda in voter registration drives.

Remarkably, however, this time the press decided to investigate this inflammatory accusation. This charge is “utterly baseless” and is “unsupported by election officials, police or prosecutors,” the Post notes in the editorial. In fact, the Post described the accusation as an exercise in “fear mongering” by Frederick, amplified by his allegations that citizens who register with these drives are also vulnerable to identity theft, a claim that amounts to nothing more than “a classic attempt to suppress votes,” the Post editorialized.

Bob Bauer, at his Web site,, takes the critique one step further, looking at both the accusations and the Post’s coverage. “And the Post omits mention of another feature of Fredericks’ suppression gambit,” wrote the election law attorney. “He also called for an ‘investigation,’ well understanding that his words would creep into the press on his remarks and filter out into the electorate.”

In a prime example of the kind of journalism that should happen as a matter of course when these kinds of serious allegations are made, a Virginia reporter for the Danville Register & Bee reached out to local registrars to get a real idea of the voter registration process and how unlikely it is to lead to voter fraud.

“‘It’s not easy to falsely register somebody,’ said Pittsylvania County Registrar Jenny Saunders, who explained that in addition to the registrar going over the application for obvious errors (like missed questions), there’s a statewide database all applications are checked against.”

Partisans out for political gain perpetuate fear about the integrity of the election system, something that the media often picks up unfiltered. “In fact,” the Post wrote, “it is groundless accusations and cynical fear-mongering such as Mr. Frederick’s that are injecting the real venom, and the true threat, into the elections.

Below are some important facts to consider when writing (or reading) reports on voter registration fraud:

Voter Registration Drives Rev up in Presidential Election Years

The fact that young people and minorities are expanding the voting rolls this year does not indicate that something is awry with voter registration drives. Indeed, most large-scale drives target those populations least represented in the electorate. Further, in high interest election years, especially presidential, more people are motivated to help register voters or get registered themselves. Stories about so-called voter fraud should be evaluated in terms of the number of cards thought to be fraudulent versus the total number of cards the registration drive is gathering. In Virginia, a handful of fake cards were found in a drive that could register more than 30,000 people.

Voter Registration Fraud Does Not Lead to Voter Fraud

“We have the checks and balances…to makes sure the wrong person doesn’t get registered and the right person does,” said Va. election official, Saunders in the Register & Bee.

Further, professionally-run drives expect almost a third of all applications to be duplicates or incomplete, no matter how well-trained the canvasser or volunteers are. This does not mean they are all illegal. However, the registrar is required to ensure all applications contain accurate information “including whether the applicant is a citizen, their Social Security number, date of birth, full name, valid residence, whether they’ve been convicted of a felony, or whether they have been determined mentally incapable…If any of that is left off…the application is denied,” according to the Register & Bee. Note: Not all states require Social Security number information to be filled out on  a voter registration card. For more information on your state’s requirements on registering to vote, visit

Allegations of Voter Fraud are Often Motivated By Partisan Gain

“If you’re not winning at the ballot box, try your chances in the registrar’s office, or in court,” the Virginia Pilot editorialized.  “[That’s] [h]ardly democratic.”

Following the success of voter registration drives that have increased registration among low income, minority and young people, almost all claims of rampant voter fraud have come from Republican leaders, despite lack of substantiation of a real problem. The most vicious and corrupt efforts made were part of what has become the US AttorneyGate scandal that subsequently exposed the widespread politicization of the Department of Justice and led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. All of that unraveled because former US Attorney David Iglesias refused to make false accusations of voter fraud against ACORN’s 2004 voter registration drive in New Mexico.

The fact is between 2002 and 2005 – when the Department of Justice carried out the most intensive investigation of voter fraud in US history –  only 24 people were convicted of illegal voting nationwide. However, partisans still made public allegations and the press, in many instances, ran these claims with out real evidence. Armed with these published anecdotes and buoyed by manufactured public outcry about the possibility of their votes being canceled out by illegal voters, legislators fought to pass laws that disenfranchise certain classes of voters. As a result, states like Indiana and Georgia have implemented some of the most draconian voter ID laws despite the lack of any evidence of actual voter fraud.

Reporters practicing ethical and rigorous journalism should recognize that merely using the “rhetorical hand grenade” of voter fraud – without an explanation of how voter registration and elections are administered or an investigation into the evidence of voter fraud – is the real threat to democracy.

Quick Links:

Minnite, Lorraine. “The Politics of Voter Fraud. “Project Vote. March 2007.

Voter Registration Guides and Surveys [By State]. Project Vote

In Other News:

A voting penalty after the penalty – Birmingham Press-RegisterAnnette McWashington Pruitt watched her 18-year-old son graduate from high school this May. She proudly tells people that he is going into the Navy, following in the footsteps of his older brother (who is serving in Iraq) and his grandfather (who was in the Air Force).

Voting Rules Create Land of Disenchantment: Advocacy groups are battling New Mexico’s strict voter registration laws as election looms – Miller-McCune

Jo Ann Gutierrez-Bejar remembers volunteering for the annual voter registration drive in Albuquerque, N.M. She remembers the camaraderie as the group of usually 30 to 40 volunteers headed out in the morning, clipboards in hand, to knock on doors and register new voters.

Denogean: 97-year-old voter can’t prove she’s a citizen: On deathbed, father told her to vote Democratic – The Tucson Press

Shirley Freeda Preiss of Surprise is one ticked-off little old lady. And who can blame her? The 97-year-old retired schoolteacher and onetime traveling showgirl has voted in every presidential election since 1932 when she cast a ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But thanks to the state’s voter identification requirements, it’s looking unlikely that she’ll be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Watch your (official) language –

Missouri, a key presidential swing state and home to one of the most hotly contested gubernatorial races, will test what some see as voters’ attitudes toward immigrants this November with a ballot measure to make English the only language of state government.

Voter Registration Drive Registers Millionth Voter!

Those who read our diaries know Project Vote as the organization that fights voter suppression and helps election protection efforts. What you may not know is that in addition to being on the frontlines in the fight for voter rights, Project Vote is also the largest voter registration organization in the United States.

Since 2003 over one-third of all registration applications submitted through voter registration drives in the U.S. have come through Project Vote. In 2003-04 we submitted 1.13 million applications, in 2006 just over 547,000, and by Friday we will collect our 1,000,000th registration for 2007-08. Half of our registrants are under 30, and almost all of them are African-Americans or Latinos. One-third of them have never registered before in their lives.

With one month left in the drive we have 270,000 more registrations to collect and you can help!

Project Vote is proud of our achievements. No voter registration organization in U. S. history has been able to help register over a million low-income people for two presidential election cycles in a row. This success is a testament to our field partners, our state of the art project management system, and the generosity and commitment of our to donors.

But our work is not yet finished. Our goal for the 2007-2008 election was 1.27 million voters, so we still have 270,000 more applications to collect in states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. We are now one short month away from the end of our program and we need everyone’s help to finish the job.

In at least five states nationwide Project Vote will help register more voters than made up the margin of victory in the last presidential election: no matter how our registrants choose to vote, these last few votes will matter in a real and powerful way.

Rest assured that in addition to our record-breaking voter registration effort, our Elections Administration program will continue through Election Day to make sure our applicants and similarly situated applicants get on the voter rolls, can vote, and have their vote counted. In fact, we’ve been hard at work fighting voter purges in the South in recent days.

If you would like to reach out to Project Vote, you can contact us at 800-546-8683, 202-546-4173, or via e-mail at [email protected]