Lawmakers debate how states should maintain voter registration rolls

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – On Capitol Hill Wednesday, lawmakers held a hearing to evaluate how states maintain accurate and up-to-date voter registration rolls.

Chairman of the House Administration Committee Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said it is paramount for elections to be conducted in a fair and open manner.

“Ensuring the accuracy of voter registration lists is the foundation to a successful election. Having accurate lists increases voter confidence, it eases the administration of elections, reduces wait times, and certainly helps prevent voter fraud and irregularity,” Harper said.

The hearing also questioned crosscheck programs and automatic voter registration practices.

“How can the federal government improve the information sharing between states concerning residents while recognizing that the states have already banded together and created programs to do so?” Harper questioned.

The National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter Act, establishes requirements for how states maintain voter registration lists for federal elections. Section eight of the act clarifies that states must keep voter registration lists accurate and current. That includes identifying individuals who have become ineligible to vote because they are deceased or no longer living in a jurisdiction.

“At the same time, the Act requires list-maintenance programs to incorporate specific safeguards, e.g., that they be uniform, non-discriminatory, in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and not be undertaken within 90 days of a federal election,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

States are also required to report election results through the Election Administration and Voting Survey distributed by the Election Assistance Commission. The survey is filled out by each state after an election takes place. However, not all states track voting information in the same way and it can vary from state to state. Lawmakers discussed what that means; some questions asked in the survey may not align with how the individual state can retrieve the data from its system.

Accurate data collection could inform states of important information. For example, if there are more registered voters than citizens of voting age.

Harper has introduced legislation to dissolve the Election Assistance Commission.

Ranking member Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., in partnership with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2017. During the hearing, Brady said the act would work to expand upon the Motor Voter Act and prompt citizens when they interact with government agencies if they would like to register or renew registration.

“In maintaining these lists, we need to have one principle, no one who has lawfully registered to vote should be kicked off the rolls to keep them from voting,” Brady said.

Hearing witness Illinois Secretary of State Connie Lawson said maintaining accurate voter rolls can be costly at the local level.

“Many counties do not have the money to do periodic and uniform mailings to their voters as required by federal law. Thus, the state has taken the lead,” Lawson remarked.

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