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Pennsylvania Election Officials Reject “No-Match, No Vote” Policy

August 10, 2006

For Immediate Release
Thursday, August 10, 2006

Contact Information
Justin Levitt, 212 992–8158
Kafayat Alli-Balogun, 212 998–6735

Pennsylvania Election Officials Reject No-Match, No Vote Policy
Bureau of Elections Issues Alert Regarding Voter Registration

Harrisburg, PA Pennsylvania election officials have reversed a voter registration policy that would have blocked eligible Pennsylvania citizens from the rolls because of typos and other immaterial mistakes. In an alert issued yesterday to the county voter registration commissions, the Department of State announced that it was scrapping the state barrier, prompting praise from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The Department of States policy change brings Pennsylvania in line with federal requirements. The Help America Vote Act, a federal law passed after the 2000 elections to reduce unnecessary barriers to registration, mandates that states create an official statewide database of registered voters. A national Brennan Center study showed, however, that a handful of states initially misconstrued the law, and refused to place eligible citizens on the rolls unless their registration information matched data in the state motor vehicle or Social Security systems.

Matching requirements like these have been causing problems for eligible voters up to 30% of voters in some cases. A citizen registering as William might not match if his drivers license is issued under Bill; a womans married name might not match against an outdated database containing her maiden name. Moreover, common data entry errors cause matches to fail. According to court documents in a recent Washington case, one woman was barred from the rolls when her birthday was mistakenly entered into the system as 1976 instead of 1975.

Voter registration groups like ACORN, Project Vote, the League of Women Voters, and the Pennsylvania Voters Coalition and civil rights groups like the Advancement Project are vigorously spreading the word about such problems.

And one by one, states like Pennsylvania are reversing course.

We are extremely pleased that Pennsylvania has reevaluated its voter registration policy, said Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Brennan Centers Democracy Program. Weiser, who prepared a legal memorandum on the issue for the Pennsylvania registration groups, added: This policy change accomplishes what federal law requiresand helps ensure that eligible Pennsylvania citizens are able to register and vote.

The Department of States alert explicitly recognizes that neither federal law nor Pennsylvania law permits the rejection of unmatched voters. The alert also references a recent federal court ruling in Washington, which emphasized that such immaterial inconsistencies should not interfere with a citizens right to vote. Justin Levitt, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in that case and associate counsel at the Brennan Center, noted, Our success in this litigation was not just a victory for the voters of Washington. This decision is already echoing in the policy discussions of election officials across the country, helping to protect the right to vote for all Americans.