The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) introduced sweeping changes to federal election administration laws. Among the changes was a requirement that states create a computerized, centralized statewide database of all eligible voters. HAVA and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) provide that states shall periodically remove ineligible voters from the statewide official voter list. States are required to develop specific standards for implementing a list maintenance program that is transparent, consistent and not discriminatory.
A lack of clear and specific state criteria for performing list maintenance programs has resulted in inconsistent standards between states and within states for federal elections. Poorly developed and executed programs for matching voter lists to external databases have led to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters in many states. Frequently, the disenfranchisement has a disparate impact on minorities.
Purges Based on Flawed Database Matching Programs
Creating database-matching programs for list maintenance has been a challenge for state elections officials. In the absence of specific guidelines for conducting HAVA matching for purposes of list maintenance individual states have failed to legislate specific matching standards, which has inevitably led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible voters. Purges based on computerized database matching are inherently fallible, and clerical error alone can be expected to lead to a ten percent error rate. The likelihood that individuals in a large database may share the same name and date of birth is high. Reliable studies have found database matching error rates of between 20 and 32 percent. Where database matching is based on “substantial” matching criteria as opposed to exact matching criteria across several data fields, eligible voters have been, and will continue to be, disenfranchised.
Lack of Transparent, Specific Criteria for Conducting Purges
HAVA does not provide specific standards and methods for conducting purges of ineligible voters. As a result, states have been left to fill the void, and poorly designed and executed voter list maintenance programs have led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible voters. State legislation and regulations in response to HAVA’s list maintenance provisions have been piecemeal and broadly drafted, lacking clearly drawn specific purge criteria and adequate procedures to safeguard against removal of eligible voters in error.
Lack of Notice or an Opportunity to Challenge Removal from Voter List
States have been charged with the exacting task of developing list maintenance programs under HAVA and the NVRA while also meeting their mandate to ensure that eligible voters are not disenfranchised. One of the most useful means to avoid unlawful disenfranchisement is to give notice of a pending removal to all voters whose names are to be purged. Without notice and an opportunity to challenge their removals from the official list, eligible voters may be disenfranchised without due process of law.
Interstate Voter Registration Database Matching
The existence of statewide computerized voter registration databases, created in response to HAVA, has enabled states to enter into interstate agreements to compare their voter registration databases in order to purge duplicate registrations. This practice has increased the likelihood that eligible voters may be disenfranchised due to database errors caused by data entry, applicant error, or actual illegibility are compounded exponentially when state A compares it's list with states B, C, or D. State voter registration databases vary in degree of accuracy, the number and type of data fields collected, and the frequency with which they are updated.