Following the debacle of the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida, Congress in its infinite wisdom created and passed the Help America Vote Act or HAVA.
This considerably less than wonderful piece of legislation is best known for its requirements for modernization of voting technology. Many of us have spent the last several years fighting or the best possible voting technology here in New York as well as across the country.
Another equally important feature of this typically crappy legislation which perhaps ought to be more properly known as the Hinder Americans Rights and Ability to Vote Act, is the requirement for the establishment of a statewide voter database within each state.
As with the idea of modernized voting systems, the idea of a statewide voter roll with uniform controls is not a bad one. The problem with HAVA is the loose language in the legislation that makes it quite possible for each state to screw up the process more completely then it already was.
Today we receive news that New York State has purged 1.6 million voters from the rolls. At first gasp this sounds horrible. What right does the state have to purge voters from the rolls?
Well, reality is that voter rolls are very hard to maintain and always contain obsolete voter registration entries. If you have canvassed a town or district based on your localities voter roll you know how true this is. People move. People die. People get married or remarried and end up on the rolls under multiple names. 911 address changes result in all sorts of confusion and obsolete registrations. For example, the couple I bought my house from back in 1998 remained on the voter roll under the pre-911 street address after having moved out of state for several years after my wife and I moved in to the same home at the post-911 street address number.
So odds are that the vast majority of the 1.6 million voters purged from the rolls are valid clean-up of obsolete entries. Key words here are "odds" and "majority."
As with the actual voting systems the keys to whether any of this works reliably or not are the processes and procedures built around the system. A voter database is a simple thing. Nothing fancy or new fangled in the technology involved. Adding new voter registrations is also a very simple, straightforward process. Cleaning up old and or invalid entries is another story altogether.
The good news for us here in New York is that Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verified Voting is, as usual, on the job. His BoBlog discusses the situation:
"But a question has remained, how many voter records have been purged from New York State's voter rolls? Now we have an answer. I submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for all records in New York's NYSVOTER voter registration database. Early in October, I received a copy of NYSVOTER records from September 23, 2008. I wrote a program to analyze the 12,010,045 voter records and can now report the number of voters who have had their status set to "Purged" or "Inactive" in the Empire state, and the reasons given for the change.
The data reveals that New York State has moved 1,661,244, or almost 14% of the voter records, from "Active" status to "Purged" or "Inactive", meaning they will not be in the poll books on Election Day..."
Read the Full Story:
As Bo goes on to say, and is quoted in the TU article as saying, though the vast majority of the purges are undoubtedly legitimate, there are equally as undoubtedly valid voters that have been purged mistakenly and will be in for a rude surprise when they go to the polls on election day.
Thankfully, the New York State Board of Elections website now has a feature where you can check the status of your own registration.
I strongly encourage everyone to make use of this feature prior to election day in order to verify their own regstration has not been affected.