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EAC Proposal a Disappointment

April 26, 2005

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Contact Information:
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736
Wendy Weiser, 212 998–6130

EAC Proposal a Disappointment
Crucial Steps to Protect Voters Rights Needed

New York, NY The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law presented analysis today to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) on critical issues affecting the right to vote in response to the commissions release of its first guidance on statewide voter registration databases. Unfortunately, the current guidance does not provide states with sufficient direction as to how they should protect voters rights as they implement statewide database systems, Brennan Center Associate Counsel Wendy Weiser testified at a commission hearing in Boston.

The EAC and the guidance are both products of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was passed in 2002 in the wake of nationwide concern that up to three million eligible voters were denied the right to vote in 2000. One way in which the law sought to address the problem of disenfranchisement was through the requirement that each state set up an electronic voter database. But the state databases themselves could create more problems than they solve without sufficient safeguards, and guidelines for such safeguards should be part of the EACs guidance. The commissions current database design proposal, however, lacks such guidelines and thus falls short of the laws mandate to protect voters rights by ensuring that each eligible voter appears on the voter rolls.

Weiser offered detailed testimony about a number of areas of concern where the commissions guidance has not been adequately developed. For instance, HAVA requires that states try to match voter registration information with information in other databases (e.g., DMV records). This matching requirement could inadvertently throw thousands of eligible voters off the rolls in every state for the simple, human reason that data entry errors are inevitable. In New York, 20% of 15,000 voting records compared to DMV records in 2004 turned up no match, yet a subsequent audit revealed that 99.7% of those mismatches were the result of errors made by elections officials when they input the identification numbers into their database. It is thus imperative that HAVA implementation includes matching protocols that explicitly guarantee that a voter registration application will not be rejected solely on the basis of a database mismatch. The current EAC guidance fails to address this crucial issue.

Similarly, Weiser pointed out, the current guidance is also silent about how states can fulfill their obligation under HAVA to prevent erroneous purges of voter lists. Matching protocols and safeguards against erroneous purges are just two of many critical that need to be addressed in order to ensure voters rights in the process of implementing statewide databases. The Brennan Center is disappointed with the EACs first proposal, but we are confident that the commission will make necessary revisions and refinements so that voters rights are protected in the implementation of HAVA, Weiser said.

The Brennan Center for Justice unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy.