VPC Responds to Richmond Times Dispatch

July 23rd, 2012

Every four years, the presidential election provides a huge and unique opportunity to expand the voting universe. Americans excited by the once every-four-year election are more likely to register to vote than in other years.  And that’s an opportunity we’ve seized at the Voter Participation Center. Since September 2011, we have mailed out almost 7 million voter registration applications in 30 states and helped more than 400,000 Americans register to vote.  Our aim is to make a dent in the massive number of Americans — 73 million – who are not registered.

But this crisis in our democracy and the efforts to close this gap have been obscured and demeaned by stories on the process and the mailing list- a steady drip, drip, drip of stories focused on the miniscule amount of mail sent to a pet or a deceased person because of flaws in the list.  The latest story in The Richmond Times Dispatch is a perfect example of the disservice these kinds of story do to civic engagement efforts like ours designed to make it more convenient for unregistered Virginians to vote.

The article gives some a platform to raise the specter of “voter fraud.”  The assertion made in the story that mailings of voter registration applications “can create opportunities for voter fraud” is just wrong.  No matter the source of the registration applications – the local DMV office or the Voter Participation Center — it’s up to an individual to complete the form and follow the state law; it is then up to the local election officials to vet the  application  – - if and when the form is turned in.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has studied voter fraud issues for years and they have concluded that “by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.” The fact is that a dog receives a voter registration application, a credit card application, or a magazine subscription appeal in the mail doesn’t mean fraud is the intent – it simply means there’s a mistake in the mailing list.

Imperfections in the VPC vendors’ lists – while regrettable and unfortunate – should not be the reason or the excuse to call an entire process that is working into question. There are clearly issues with commercial data files such as the ones VPC vendors use. However, there are highly significant mistakes in voter files as well. According to a report from the Pew Center on the States, approximately 24 million—one of every eight—voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate – meaning there are 24 million names on state voter files that shouldn’t be. Add to that the fact that the Social Security Administration has just admitted they did not record 1.2 million dead people on the national Master Death File, which is part of why the deceased continue to receive mail and are still on state voter files.  No process is perfect but that should not deter us from doing all that we can to make sure that as many eligible American citizens are registered and vote.