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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Day Spotlights Tex. Voter ID Law, Va. Voter Purge

Steve Maskell of McLean, Va., right, votes in an election that includes the Virginia gubernatorial race between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe on election day in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Steve Maskell of McLean, Va., right, votes on election day in McLean, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Texas is one of 34 states that have passed voter ID laws, but its law is one of the first to go into effect in this election cycle. In early voting, the law has already caused a few hiccups, tripping up high-profile voters, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and former U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright, at the polls.

In Virginia, 38,000 voters were recently purged from the election rolls. University of Minnesota election expert Doug Chapin says Virginia is one of more than two dozen states participating in a growing interstate cross-matching program to purge duplicate registrations. The problem is there’s a dispute about the accuracy of the database used to identify which voters should be removed from the rolls.

Chapin joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to explain.

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. In a couple of minutes, where are we on challenges to the affordable health care requirement that companies provide contraceptive coverage to workers?

HOBSON: But first voters have been heading to the polls today all across the country. There is of course not a presidential race going on or any House or Senate races, but governors will be elected in two states. There are a number of mayors races. And for the first time, many states are testing out new voter ID laws.

In Texas, which has been holding early voting, even high-profile residents like Wendy Davis, the gubernatorial candidate, had to show her ID to vote. In Virginia, local election officials are concerned that there are hundreds of voters who probably should have been allowed to vote today but will not be able to do because their names were purged from the rolls. For more let's bring in Doug Chapin, an election expert at the University of Minnesota. And Doug, first of all, have you heard of any problems yet today at the polls?

DOUG CHAPIN: Very few. There are in a couple places problems with scanners not starting or machines not working, but given the number of elections across the country, that's not surprising. As I'm fond of saying, lots of littles, no bigs.

HOBSON: All right, well in Virginia, which we just mentioned, there's obviously huge interest in the gubernatorial race, Ken Cuccinelli against Terry McAuliffe. But the state did recently take 38,000 people off of the voter rolls. What kind of an effect is that having?

CHAPIN: Well, what - I think the affect it will likely have is that, as you mentioned, some folks who should not have come off the rolls might find that they need to cast a provisional ballot today because their name is not on the rolls. That list maintenance project was done as part of a program that Virginia has joined. It's an interstate cross-check, where states share voter lists and identify voters who might not belong on the rolls.

And as a result, as you mentioned, 38,000 folks came off. What I found interesting is that the local officials who looked at those numbers found that the lists were between 80 and 90 percent accurate, meaning that, you know, four out of five, or nine out of 10 voters really didn't belong on the rolls.

But there were voters who did belong on the rolls who ended up getting removed as a result. So we'll be watching to see what kind of an impact that has on the voting in Virginia.

HOBSON: And in Texas, as we said, the first state to run a statewide election with new voter ID laws in place after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, how has the new law in Texas affected voting there? What do you expect it will do?

CHAPIN: Well, I think what's interesting today is that, and we've seen a lot of news stories that you've already referenced, about voters whose names on their IDs don't match their names on the voter rolls and the requirement that they sign an affidavit if those names are not, as they say, substantially similar.

What's interesting, in addition, is that the Department of Justice, even though it can no longer block that law under the part of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court, there's another part of the act that allows them to bring suit, which they have done. And so you can bet that both sides will be gathering evidence hand over fist over the next couple of weeks as that case prepares to go to trial.

HOBSON: What about Ohio, which also did a purge of duplicate voter registrations?

CHAPIN: Yeah, that's really a remarkable story. I mean, Ohio has in the past had a large number of provisional ballots because of uncertainty about who is and isn't on the rolls. And so the secretary of state and local election boards engaged in an aggressive effort to identify duplicate records on the rolls and also used a new program that allows voters to check and update their records online. And as a result, as least as of a couple weeks ago, there were four, not 400, not 4,000, but four duplicate records statewide in Ohio.

And it'll be interesting to see if that clears up some of the provisional issues that they've had in the past.

HOBSON: Now Doug, this is obviously not going to be a big election day in the sense that we won't see the kinds of lines at any polling places that we would see in a presidential year, but there were a lot of problems with that last year in many places, long lines at the polls. Has anything been done, in the last year, to fix those kinds of problems?

CHAPIN: I do - you do see in a couple of states that - Florida, for example, where at least some of the concern was that restrictions on early voting had contributed - the state has lengthened those again. You're also seeing other states interested in looking for alternatives to the Election Day polling place.

I think also there's interest in things line online voter registration and the like to help move voters through the process more quickly in advance of Election Day. The big shoe left to drop is what recommendations the bipartisan Commission on Election Administration, appointed by President Obama, what their recommendations look like when they come down at the end of this year. But I think that there will be real interest in figuring out how to make sure that the voters who go to the polls on Election Day don't have to stand in line longer than they should.

HOBSON: Doug Chapin is director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota. And Doug, I assume you're not one of the 35 people running for mayor in Minneapolis today?

CHAPIN: No I am not, although if I - had I been a Minneapolis resident and had $20 for the filing fee, I could've been.

HOBSON: Doug Chapin, thanks a lot.

CHAPIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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