Wide range of expert opinions aired
On February 24th, the Bellingham Central Library was the venue for a gathering of election administration experts, expressing at least as many opinions as experts. From "we don't see widespread problems" to "there are many ineligible people registered to vote," a continuum of assessments from guardedly optimistic to pessimistic was asserted and defended.
The presenters included three election administrators: Shirley Forslof (Whatcom County Auditor), Paul Miller (Elections Information Manager for Washington State) and John Lindback (Elections Director for Oregon State). Two presenters represented election advocacy organizations: Bob Edelman (Voter Integrity Project, Evergreen Freedom Foundation) and Brian Mellor (Project Vote).
Some common ground emerged in the forum, especially in instances where reviews of voter rolls suggested that particular voters could possibly be removed. For example, before a voter's registration can be deleted for a felony conviction, one or more notifications are sent to the individual and an opportunity offered to clear up any administrative errors. This principle of notification before action slows the process of removing errors in voter registration rolls, but was affirmed on civic grounds.
All speakers agreed that maintaining voter registration databases was a challenge in balancing civic inclusion and accurate administration of statutory voter qualifications.
A recent federal statute, "HAVA" (Help America Vote Act), required states to establish master voter registration databases, where previously many states, including Washington, maintained registration records only at the county level. Currently, a Washington voter registration application requests either a Washington Drivers License number or the last four digits of a Social Security number and, if either of these match BMV or SSA records, the voter is enrolled. As a result of a successful lawsuit last year, a registration applicant need not provide these cross-checking numbers, but they will be registered to receive a "provisional" ballot and it will not be counted in a subsequent election until the voter provides the County Auditor with information to verify their identity and address.
Since Washington already issues drivers licenses to illegal aliens, some in the audience questioned whether such individuals might illegally registered to vote. Indeed, the "motor-voter" procedure invites registration, in the process of obtaining a drivers license. All three election administrators informally minimized this risk but, in response to a question, admitted they had no surveys or systematic audits to confirm their assurances. Mr. Edelman, of the EFF Voter Integrity Project, cited investigations conducted in eastern states by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (now part of the Homeland Security Department) in which voter registration rolls contained significant numbers of illegal aliens.
Oregon administrator John Lindback colorfully summarized the degree of assurance possible with the applicant data permitted to be requested by the federal statute, HAVA, as only proving that "you're not dead, and you're not a dog." No speaker claimed that existing registration procedures confirmed the citizenship of voter registration applicants, nor anything regarding the citizenship of those already on the voter rolls.
The restoration of voting rights to felons was also discussed. A lawsuit on this issue is currently underway in Washington and an injunction issued by the judge in that case currently restricts the full enforcement of existing state statutes on removing felons from voter registration rolls. In addition, bills are currently pending in the Washington legislature, proposing to adopt the same standard for felon voting as is already in place in Oregon, namely that a felon's voting rights are only restricted while they are actually incarcerated.
As another in a continuing series of public education forums on election issues, this event was organized by the nonpartisan volunteer group Whatcom Fair Voting, and co-sponsored by the Whatcom County Democratic, Republican and Libertarian political parties, and by the League of Women Voters.
(This draft submitted for publication in the Whatcom Independent.)