According to a New York Times article, tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law. States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which requires election officials to use the Social Security database to check a registration application only as a last resort, if no record of the applicant is found on state databases, like those for driver’s licenses or identification cards. The requirement exists because using the federal database is less reliable than the state lists, and is more likely to incorrectly flag applications as invalid. Many state officials seem to be using the Social Security lists first.
Last week, after the inquiry by the Times, Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, alerted the Justice Department to the problem and sent letters to election officials in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. The letters ask the officials to ensure that they are complying with federal law. By using the Social Security database so extensively, states are flagging extra registrations and creating extra work for local officials who are already struggling to process all the voter registration applications by Election Day.
A wave of court actions is looming. In Michigan and Florida, civil rights groups are suing state officials, accusing them of being too aggressive in purging voter rolls and of preventing people from registering. In Georgia, the Justice Department is considering legal action against the state because officials in Cobb and Cherokee Counties sent letters to hundreds of voters stating that their voter registrations had been flagged and telling them they cannot vote until they clear up the discrepancy. On Monday, the Ohio Republican Party filed a motion in federal court against the secretary of state to get the list of all names that have been flagged by the Social Security database since Jan. 1. The motion seeks to require that any voter who does not clear up a discrepancy be required to vote using a provisional ballot.
The Social Security database continues to be inaccurate yet widely used for identification and voter roles verification. Just as voting machines were the major issue that came out of the 2000 presidential election and provisional ballots were the big issue from 2004, voter registration and these statewide lists will be the top concern this year. Voting rights groups have urged voters to check their registrations with local officials.