Walla Walla Union Bulletin print edition
By Matthew Cole, Special to the U-B
February 9, 2006
The advent of the new statewide voter database has brought with it the assurance from Secretary of State Sam Reed that all of our election woes will soon be remedied. However, a database can only be as good as the data it contains.
In the aftermath of the messy 2000 presidential election, the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) required all states to create a statewide voter registration database by January 1, 2006. Last week, the Secretary of State’s office released to the public the new database that contains data on nearly 3.4 million voters.
The new database grandfathers in scores of deceased, duplicate and non-citizen voters. A quick query revealed that many birthdates are over a century old, many voters have two genders, and many more have multiple active registrations.
Reed acknowledged that the new voter database found at least 5,224 deceased registered to vote in Washington and an additional 3,000 voters registered twice—this is before any check for felons and with no plan to check for citizenship. While these registrations are still being investigated, we are “assured” that there is no election fraud or misconduct that occurred as a result of these findings.
Similar checks by various watchdog groups showed that there are scores of registrations with obvious errors. Stefan Sharkansky of SoundPolitics.com found 1,353 pairs of duplicate registrations, where both members match on first name, last name, birth date and exact address.
What’s more startling, Sharkansky notes, is that 82 percent of these names are in King County alone. And yet, Reed stated unconditionally that these duplicate registered voters “are not casting two ballots.”
Not so fast. Have we already forgotten the number of illegal votes identified in the 2004 election? If I recall, it didn’t exactly go off without a hitch.
Another query found an additional 156 pairs of duplicates. Of those 156 pairs, one was born in 1900, five voted in their last election in 1800; seventy-six voted in their last election in 1900, seven have two genders; and seventy-six have two active registrations. The remaining pairs have one or both registrations flagged as inactive.
All of this highlights an even larger dilemma. Reed is in violation of HAVA. While he contends that the database is a work in progress, it is contrary to the federal statute. HAVA mandated that the new database be fully current and accurate. Reed stated, “We’ve got more work ahead. And we’re not satisfied yet.” He is behind the game by a full month. The voter database was not released to the public until February 1. HAVA required that all statewide databases be fully current and accurate by the first of the year.
In a state that now boasts the closest and most controversial gubernatorial election in U.S. history, one might think Reed would have been more pressed than his national counterparts to get an accurate database in play on time. What Washington got instead was a rough draft. Reed’s database was widely distributed without checking for felons, non-citizens, deaths or even residency. This list does nothing to improve the process and now Washington is noncompliant with federal regulations.
With all the ballyhoo in the new database, one wonders if Washington will ever restore integrity to its electoral process.
There is a solution: To restore credibility in our state elections system, we should place all voters on an inactive status and require them to update their registrations. Voters should be required to provide proof of citizenship and show a photo ID in order to activate their registration. Anyone failing to do so would be able to vote a provisional ballot.
We also need to strengthen current voter ID laws and require a valid identification to be shown when voting. Additionally, we should clarify and strengthen a county auditor’s duty to verify information on a registration form.
Only by conducting a 100 percent new registration that requires voters to register in their legal name, provide proof of citizenship and identification will we be able to trust the voter database.
As it stands, the current statewide voter database provides no refuge to those seeking better election practices in Washington. With the 2006 midterms looming, voter data must be correct. Requiring all voters to reactivate their registrations is one of the best ways to make the database accurate. It is a necessary step for restoring integrity to Washington’s elections.