|Eintime Conversion for education and research 05-14-2006 @ 17:17:14|
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States sift through voting registration confusion
By JOE MANDAK, Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (June 25, 1:26 p.m. CDT) - Some election officials would find 100 percent voter turnout to be a dream come true. It would be a nightmare in some Pennsylvania communities.
Eighteen municipalities in Allegheny County have more registered voters than voting-age adults.
Mark Wolosik, manager of the county Elections Division, blames the discrepancy on state and federal "motor voter" laws that took effect in 1995. [BS]
The laws make it easier for people to register - citizens can do so while getting a driver's license or signing up for various social services - but harder for officials to remove voters from the rolls.
"As a general rule, we are not permitted to remove people from the list of registered voters unless the voter confirms in writing that they have moved from the jurisdiction," Wolosik said. [BS I was removed repeatedly]
The problem has come up elsewhere, too.
In St. Louis, there were complaints that voter rolls were clogged with outdated, incorrect information during the November election. Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond said there were more people registered to vote in the city than there were people eligible to vote. The voter lists included the names of dead aldermen and a dog named Ritzy Mekler.
A grand jury investigation is under way into allegations of rampant vote fraud there.
Motor voter laws, some critics say, are partly to blame.
Deborah Phillips, president of the watchdog group Voting Integrity Project, said 10 percent to 25 percent of voter rolls nationwide may be filled with "deadwood" - people who have moved or died.
"There is virtually no capability to deal with someone moving even a block and falling in another jurisdiction," she said.
Allegheny County's discrepancy appears to be something of an anomaly in Pennsylvania, where officials say the real problem is not fraud but the extra work and expense needed to keep voter rolls up to date.
Under the old laws, 110,000 of the Allegheny County's 920,000 registered voters would already be off the rolls for moving, dying or not voting.
But now, Upper St. Clair, for example, has 15,361 registered voters and only 14,369 residents of voting age, according to a comparison of voter rolls and census figures.
Before motor voter, those who didn't vote two years in a row were removed from Pennsylvania registration lists if they didn't respond to a notice mailed to them.
Under the new federal law, and a companion state law, people who do not vote for five years are placed on "inactive" status if they do not respond. Once on inactive status, however, they are removed from the rolls only if they do not cast a ballot in the next two federal elections.
That means some voters will not be dropped until they have failed to vote for eight or nine years.
Another, somewhat quicker way to purge the voter rolls is to send notices to individuals to check to see whether they have moved away. But under the federal law, counties must now make a choice: mailing annual address-confirmation notices to all voters, or just to those who have reported an address change to the post office.
Voters who don't confirm their address are then sent a second notice. If they don't answer that, they go on inactive status.
Tim Dowling, Philadelphia's election financial document specialist, said his office spent about $90,000 a year on bulk mailings before motor voter but now budgets $250,000.
"And another thing: If somebody did move, and didn't notify us, they can still go to their old polling place and vote," Dowling said. "It's ridiculous, but (lawmakers) want people to vote."
The National Association of Secretaries of State supported the federal law, but many members are now calling for reforms.
"We're a very mobile society. It would help if we had some interstate abilities to know when, let's say, somebody from Arkansas moved to New Jersey and registered there. But it's not as easy as it sounds," said Arkansas Secretary of State Sharon Priest, the association's president.
In Arkansas, at least, the state's centralized registration system lets officials know if someone has moved from one part of the state to another. Pennsylvania does not have a centralized system, though Gov. Tom Ridge has set aside $8.5 million to help establish one.
Separately, a government review released Friday found that half the states using the motor voter program suffered serious glitches last election. In some cases, Americans were denied ballots.
The Federal Election Commission said the problems ranged from motor vehicle departments that failed to forward registration information in a timely manner to forms that were filled out incorrectly.
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