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Study Examines Modernizing Voter Registration


There has been plenty of talk in recent weeks, much of it emanating from the White House, about voter fraud. Now, a new study released by the Brennan Center For Justice, entitled  “Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda,” confirms in-person voter fraud is a rarity. The paper argues that the integrity of elections can be strengthened without discouraging eligible voters.

On January 25th, President Donald Trump Tweeted "I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD..." Trump claimed millions voted illegally in the election:   "You have people registered in two states. They're registered in New York and New Jersey, they vote twice."

Without any evidence, the president has also claimed “3-5 million illegal votes” cost him a popular vote victory. This all comes after years of battles in the states over voting laws that some say make it harder for many citizens to participate in elections. Most people expect American elections are secure and free of misconduct, but some are doubtful.  "I will say this. Of those votes cast, none of 'em come to me. None of 'em come to me," moaned Trump.

Brennan found that although numerous studies have found that in-person voter fraud is quite rare, voter I-D laws have passed in some states that opponents argue disenfranchise many eligible voters.  Jennifer Clark is counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. She attributes part of the problem to outdated, inaccurate voter-registration rolls.  "Many states don't have modernized voter registration systems. That means that many states are still relying on a lot of paper forms. They're still relying on the mail and they're not really harnessing the power of technology to keep the rolls cleaner, so lots changes that would modernize the rolls would also go a long way toward cleaning up the rolls."

Clark says electoral integrity can be preserved without discouraging voters.   "One big reform that would make a difference is automatically registering voters at state agencies, such as, for example, the DMV. Automatic registration means that rather than eligible voters be given the choice to sign up to vote, register to vote when they're having a transaction at the DMV, they're actually given the choice to opt-out. So it switches the voter registration system form an opt-in system, which most states have right now, to an opt-out system. There are a bunch of states that have recently passed laws putting automatic voter registration into place, and a couple states that have already implemented it. And the states that have implemented it have seen both cleaner rolls, because it keeps information more up to date: the voter registration follows people as they move around and do things, like update their driver's license, and it also grows the rolls with more eligible voters because people who may not have taken the initiative to actually sign up do not seem to opt-out,and so it manages to both increase integrity while bringing people to the franchise rather than disenfranchising people."
The paper suggests electronic voting should incorporate a "paper trail."   "Many states have voting machines that are outdated. That really need to be replaces and there's not enough funding for it. You get these touch screen machines that are old and that aren't well-calibrated. So a voter may attempt to vote for one candidate, but bceause the touch screen hasn't been well-calibrated for, in recent election, the vote actually seems to register for a different candidate. A lot of times voters think that there's fraud going on there, but what's really happening is that you have an old machine that isn't doing what it's supposed to do."

Clark says the paper trail serves as backup in the event a machine is compromised. And what about Russian hacking? Clark adds keeping voting machines updated can help ensure integrity.   "This is an endemic problem around the country. There is a federal agency that is actually tasked with making sure that there are guidelines for voting machines, making sure that states know what kind of technology they need to have. And unfortunately, that agency is currently being threatened with disbandment. It is important that that agency stay in place and continues to update their voting technology so that machines don't become outdated."

The Brennan paper outlines a six-part agenda to target fraud risks as they actually exist — without unduly disenfranchising eligible citizens. 

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