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March 30, 2006 (916) 651-4028/(916) 215-5953
WANT TO REGISTER OR RE-REGISTER TO VOTE?
WHOA, NOT SO FAST, YOU’RE A “MIKE” NOT A “MICHAEL”
BOWEN NOTES IRONY AS SECRETARY OF STATE DECLARES APRIL
“CALIFORNIA VOTER EDUCATION & PARTICIPATION MONTH” AT THE SAME
TIME HE’S PREVENTING ELIGIBLE CALIFORNIANS FROM REGISTERING TO VOTE
SACRAMENTO – Just days after it was revealed that an agreement between the Bush Administration and Secretary of State Bruce McPherson is preventing tens of thousands of Californians from registering and re-registering to vote, the Secretary of State today proclaimed April as “Voter Education & Participation Month.”
The irony wasn’t lost on Senator Debra Bowen, the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee.
“It’s ironic to see him proclaim April as ‘voter participation month’ after he signed a landmark agreement with President Bush’s Department of Justice that makes it hard for people to register and re-re-register to vote in California,” said Bowen. “The deal he cut with the Bush Administration nearly five months ago has been a disaster for anyone who is trying to register for the first time or re-register because they moved, got married and need to change their name, or because they want to change parties.”
The Bush-McPherson agreement was announced on November 2, 2005, and emergency regulations were adopted to implement it with little or no public notice on December 12. The Help America Vote Act requires states to have a Statewide Voter Registration Database and requires all voter registrations (and re-registrations) to be matched against any prior registration information and information in the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) database and the Social Security Administration (SSA) database. However, states have discretion over how exact the match has to be, as well as what happens to people whose voter registration forms don’t exactly match the DMV or SSA records.
“The Bush Administration has referred to its deal with Secretary McPherson as a ‘model for other states,’ but given the number of eligible voters who have been prevented from registering and re-registering to vote in California thanks to this deal, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to follow California’s lead,” said Bowen. “The Secretary said the agreement will ensure that ‘all eligible voters will be able to cast a ballot in California,’ but the evidence in so far means exactly the opposite is what’s going to happen. Thousands of people are likely to be prevented from registering or re-registering in time for the April 11th municipal and special elections in California as a direct result of this agreement, and I think the problem is going to get even worse as we approach the May 22nd deadline to register for the June primary.”
According to a March 24, 2006, report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law (http://www.brennancenter.org), states have a great deal of leeway when it comes to complying with the HAVA database requirement, but California is one of nine states to adopt an “exact match” standard. The standards the states choose to adopt and the procedures they use for dealing with errors that crop up in the process of matching voter registration forms against other databases will have a direct impact on the number of eligible voters who are denied the ability to register to vote.
During today’s news conference, the Secretary attributed the problems in California primarily to people who forget to put their driver’s license numbers on their voter registration forms and blamed HAVA for the system and the high rejection rate of voter registration forms.
“The problem we’re having in California goes beyond missing driver’s license numbers and it stems directly from the Bush-McPherson deal that adopted the most restrictive standards possible,” continued Bowen. “Under the Bush-McPherson system, if you’re in the DMV computer as Jonathan A. Smith and you register to vote as John Smith, you won’t be allowed to register to vote. The potential for tens of thousands of voters to be disenfranchised thanks to this deal is astronomical. People shouldn’t be prevented from voting or have to jump through additional hurdles simply because they move, get married and change their name, or want to change parties. Counties are required to go back and contact voters one by one to make sure John Smith is the same as Jonathan A. Smith, even when the addresses, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers of the two are identical, and that takes an incredible amount of manpower, especially in a county like Los Angeles where during the height of the season, it’s receiving 20,000 voter registration forms a day. If the Bush-McPherson standards continue to reject 43% of all voter registration and re-registration forms, it means more than 8,000 people a day who are legally entitled to register to vote may not be able to do so, and that’s just in L.A. County.”
Bowen sent Secretary McPherson a letter on March 28, asking what he plans to do to re-evaluate and revise the agreement and the data matching system prior to the May 22 registration deadline for the June primary.
“Complying with HAVA is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end to itself,” concluded Bowen. “The Bush-McPherson agreement only serves to prevent people who are legally entitled to register to vote from doing so, which undermines both the intent of HAVA and the fabric of our democracy.”