Voter Registration Bill Would Disenfranchise Voters Over Typos

By Project Vote March 8, 2017
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (Photo by Kate Wellington/CC 2.0)

UPDATE: On March 27, Gov. McAuliffe vetoed SB 1581, calling it a “flawed application denial process that would only increase the potential to disenfranchise eligible voters and stretch the limited resources of elected officials.”

Project Vote is urging Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to veto a harmful voter registration bill that recently passed the Legislature.

Senate Bill 1581 is a “no match, no vote” bill that proposes an unpredictable, costly, and burdensome process to getting on (and staying on) the voter rolls that is prone it errors. In essence, SB 1581 would reject any voter application if the name, Social Security number, and date of birth do not match information on file with government databases. Further, it would subject existing voters’ registrations to the same scheme.

On the surface, it might sound innocuous. But the probability of data entry errors, typos, and other issues that are no fault of the applicant is high. Plus, typos have nothing to do with voters’ eligibility to vote.

“This requirement, while in the guise of ‘verification,’ would actually prevent eligible Virginia citizens from voting,” writes Michelle Kanter Cohen, Project Vote’s election counsel, in the letter to the governor.

Kanter Cohen warns—citing recent litigation in Georgia over a similar voter match system—that the matching process has the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters due to its use of potentially flawed data and lack of safeguards or opportunities to cure errors. Further, it disproportionately burdens citizens of color, as their registrations are more likely to be rejected when characters, hyphens, and names have a higher chance of being transposed by unfamiliar data entry workers. Finally, other states’ problematic systems and subsequent legal challenges indicate that SB 1581 could cost Virginia significant funds.

To protect the rights of eligible Virginia voters, we urge Governor McAuliffe to do the right thing and veto SB 1581. If you are a Virginia resident, you can also contact the governor and let him know that this bill has the potential to hurt voters and our democracy.