Virginia is one of 15 states covered by studyMillions of eligible voters may be prevented from casting their ballots on November 2 due to non-existent or flawed procedures used by state election officials to purge felons from voter rolls, according to a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and Demos, as part of the Right to Vote Campaign.
“Because few states have standardized procedures or policies for purging felons from voter lists, there is little doubt that millions of voters may be disfranchised on Election Day,” said Laleh Ispahani, ACLU Voting Rights Fellow and lead author of the report. “Unfair and unjust disfranchisement of voters should not be tolerated and by no means should it be law.”
The report, Purged! How a Patchwork of Flawed and Inconsistent Voting Systems Could Deprive Millions of Americans of the Right to Vote, shows that states, even those with identical disfranchisement policies, conduct purges very unevenly because of flawed or nonexistent legislative guidance. As a result, legal voters, including voters who share similar names with felons, are mistakenly taken off of voter rolls.
The report is the first in the nation to examine the purge structures and procedures of 15 states, which represent the wide variety of disfranchisement laws. The ACLU surveyed the states’ election authorities and researched state laws to answer questions including how state elections officials “match” people with felony convictions against individuals listed on their voter registration list before purging them from the rolls, and whether states notify the individuals deemed “matched” that they will be or have been purged.
Among the key findings of the report:
- No Purge Criteria: None of the states surveyed requires its officials to use any specific or minimum criteria to ensure that an individual with a felony conviction is the same individual being purged from the voter rolls.
- A Limited Ability to Challenge Purges: Two-thirds of the states surveyed do not require elections officials to notify voters purged from the voter rolls, denying these voters an opportunity to contest erroneous purges.
- Mandatory Purge Criteria: A doption of legislation that standardizes the criteria officials must use to match felons with voters, which would put states in compliance with the Help America Vote Act. Criteria should be numerous, and matches should be required to be e xact and double-checked.
- Mandatory Notice & Challenge Process : Adoption of legislation requiring state officials to notify people, by certified mail, that their voter registration is in jeopardy because their voter registration data has been matched with the data of an individual with a felony conviction. Follow-up notices should include reinstatement and/or re-registration information. The notice and challenge process should be completed by no later than 90 days preceding an election.
Reports also emerged from Florida in 2000 that voters without any criminal record were turned away from the polls because they had been misidentified as felons. In one such case, Tampa resident Sandylynn Williams was prevented from casting her vote because her sister, who is a felon, had once used her name.
The ACLU and Demos report is the latest initiative of the Right to Vote Campaign, which includes eight national civil rights organizations working towards the end of felon disfranchisement through research, public education, voter registration and litigation. According to the Campaign, nearly five million people – 1 in 43 adults – are disfranchised in the United States. Among Africans-Americans, 1 in 13, or 1.8 million people, are disfranchised. Over 600,000 women are denied the right to vote, and over half a million veterans are disfranchised.
The full 44 page report, Purged! How a Patchwork of Flawed and Inconsistent Voting Systems Could Deprive Millions of Americans of the Right to Vote, is available online at http://www.acluva.org/publications/purged.pdf
Teleconference, Dial-in Number: 1-800-762-4717, Oct 19, 2:00 p.m.
Questions covered will include:
What systems are in place to prevent the purge problems in Florida from happening again? How do Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia compile their purge lists? How do different states match individuals convicted of felonies with the voter rolls? What do states do to notify individuals that they will be, or have been, purged? Which states do the best/worst job in each of these categories?
Speakers: Laleh Ispahani, Lead Author, Voting Rights Fellow - ACLU Nick Williams, Co-Author, Policy Analyst - Demos Rashad Robinson, Media Coordinator - Right to Vote Campaign
Contacts: Paul Silva, ACLU, 212-549-2689 Tim Rusch, Demos, 212-389-1407 Tracy Zimmerman, The Hauser Group, 202-518-8047 Kent Willis, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022