I. In Focus This Week
Voter registration cards provide info, but are they necessary?
Are the pocket-sized pieces of paper the wisdom teeth of elections administration?
The phone calls and office visits trickled in at first, but soon enough there was a flood of phone calls and visits from concerned Guadalupe County, Texas voters fearful that their voter registration had expired.
According to Elections Administrator Sue Basham a perfect storm of issues created the confusion for voters.
Texas requires that voter cards expire on odd-numbered years, so all the cards in Guadalupe County had a Dec. 31, 2011 expiration date on them. With Basham and other elections administrators waiting for the state to complete redistricting before they can send new voter cards, voters still don’t have new cards in-hand.
Add to all of that an enterprising email hoaxster who began a chain email telling voters that not only were their cards expired, but that their registration had expired as well, and you get a lot of confused voters.
Basham said her office had to help dozens of voters understand that their registration had not expired. When similar situations arose in counties across Texas, the secretary of state’s office got in on the act and put out a press release.
“Although it took time to explain to the voters that they were still registered to vote and the reason for the confusion, our main concern was the fact that the voters were worried that we had cancelled their registration and they had never had to reregister before,” Basham said. “With all the changes that are occurring now with redistricting and a huge election year ahead, we were more concerned for the voter and the unnecessary worry it had placed upon them.”
The National Voter Registration Act requires states to send out acknowledgement notices when someone newly registers, updates their registration or reactivates an inactive registration. But after that, it’s up to individual states and localities to determine when they send out voter cards and in what format.
With the more and more people relying on the Internet for their information and with elections budgets straining from coast to coast could voter registration cards issued outside of the scope of NVRA become a thing of the past?
Although we’re not there yet, Basham does envision a time when the cards would no longer be necessary.
“I can see a time where the state will have a secure website where voters will be able to make changes online and will have an option to print information on voting precincts and districts for their information,” Basham said. “While I can imagine a time where most of this will become automated, there will always be circumstances where voters will still need help in making changes, but it would certainly cut down on costs for counties and the state as a whole.”
Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE at Tufts University said that although his group has no solid research about whether or not young voters rely on, let alone even keep their voter registration cards, he does agree that young people are more used to being online and that they may be particularly resistant to having to produce a paper card.
A completely unscientific survey of voters under the age of 25 in the Washington, D.C. area found that most of the young people asked — all of whom are registered voters — wasn’t even sure what the voter registration card was, let alone having one in their wallets.
Scott Doyle, Larimer County, Colo. clerk and father of the vote center said that his voters still rely on their voter cards even though voters can vote at any of the counties vote centers.
“Our voters do still rely on voter cards and carry them in their wallets and pull them out handily while voting/changing registration or whenever they think they may be of use,” Doyle said. “I tell you that with this caveat; voters that usually have cards/mailers with them are of an age in their 40/50's on up. The younger generation(s) here in Colorado State University town hate the paper and I suspect that it would be very difficult to find any of them with the paper on their person.”
Doyle noted that not all 40/50's and up voters carry them but he said it is sort of surprising how many they see from that age group.
This year, following redistricting and to save money, Doyle said that instead of sending out multiple elections mailers, the county will only be sending out one mailer near the June primary.
For vote-by-mail states, the states are still required by the NVRA to send out the cards initially, but some states, like Washington are considering making changes to when they send out voter cards in other instances.
“A bill currently pending in the Legislature would eliminate the requirement to send out notices when the jurisdictions change, such as due to an annexation or merger of jurisdictions, or due to redistricting,” explained Katie Blinn, director of elections for the state of Washington. “In our state, the voter registration notice is not notifying the voter of his/her poll site, only notifying him/her that she is registered and which jurisdictions represent that residential address.”
And in the District of Columbia, which recently sent out new voter registration cards to all voters, it wasn’t an issue with late arriving cards or expiration dates, or whether or not people got cards at all, it was with the quality of the paper for the card.
“I was annoyed at the flimsiness of the new card, the need to cut it out and fold it, and the likelihood that the print will come off on the plastic sleeve in my wallet,” said Keith Ivey, a District voter who Tweeted his displeasure with the new cards to the District Board of Elections and Ethics.
According to Alysoun McLaughlin with the DCBOEE, the card that Ivey received is a temporary card that is only accurate for a period of time during redistricting. New, permanent cards will be issued when redistricting is complete, but McLaughlin is not sure if those cards will be on heavier card stock or regular paper.
McLaughlin did note that the city was able to reduce the costs to about half by using the 20-lb, non-scored paper.
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