Additional Data Could Help State and Local Elections Officials Maintain Accurate Voter Registration Lists
GAO-05-478: Published: Jun 10, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2005.
Reports of ineligible persons registering to vote raised concerns about state processes for verifying voter registration lists. States base voter eligibility generally on the voter's age, U.S. citizenship, mental competence, and felon status. Although states run elections, Congress has authority to affect the administration of elections. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) sets a deadline for states to have a statewide voter registration list and list verification procedures. For this report, GAO selected seven states (AZ, CA, MI, NY, TX, VA, and WI) to represent a range of characteristics relevant to voter registrations, such as whether a statewide voter list existed prior to HAVA. This report discusses how these states verify voter registration eligibility; the challenges they face in maintaining accurate voter lists; the progress toward implementing HAVA registration requirements; and identifies federal data sources that might be used to help verify voter registration eligibility.
The methods used in seven selected states to verify voter eligibility and ensure accuracy of voter registration lists were varied and include relying on registrant self attestation, return mailings, and checking against lists of felony convictions or deceased individuals. Election officials from the selected states described some challenges that may be resolved when HAVA is fully implemented, such as reducing duplicates within the state. Other challenges--identifying duplicate registrations in other states or having insufficient information to match other data sources with voter registration lists--may continue to be issues. The seven states are in different phases of implementing HAVA statewide voter registration lists and eligibility verification requirements. Arizona implemented its statewide voter list by the January 1, 2004, deadline, and the other six states applied for a January 1, 2006, waiver. Of those six states, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin awarded contracts to develop new voter lists that are designed to address HAVA requirements. Michigan has had a statewide list since 1998, and officials believe it is near HAVA compliant. California election officials are still considering how to meet these HAVA requirements, and in New York, legislation was passed in May 2005 to create the state voter registration lists. Federal data sources have the potential to help state election officials identify registrants who may be convicted felons or non-citizens. While the potential number identified may be small, an election can be decided by a few votes. Regarding felons, U.S. Attorneys are required to notify state election officials of federal felony convictions, but the information was not always easy for election officials to interpret or complete. Federal jury services generally do not now, but might feasibly be able to notify elections officials when potential jurors drawn from local voter registration lists claim to be non-citizens.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: According to information provided by a Department of Justice official, in April 2008 the Executive Office for United States Attorneys set forth a requirement for all U.S. Attorneys Offices to use a newly-created customized report to notify state election offices at the end of each calendar quarter about the defendants convicted in the districts. The new electronic system allows each office to electronically pull defendant conviction information out of the existing case management system into a quarterly report. The offices are required to send this report to state election offices within 30 calendar days of the end of each quarter.
Recommendation: To assist state election officials in identifying individuals on voter registration lists who may be ineligible to vote because of their felon or non-citizen status, the Attorney General should direct the U.S. Attorneys to provide information on felony convictions in U.S. district courts in a more standardized format to make it easier for election officials to interpret the conviction information, such as the length of the sentence, and to help ensure information on felons is complete and timely.
Agency Affected: Department of Justice
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: According to information provided by an official of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC), on Aug. 11, 2005, a memo to District courts advised them that the AOUSC would work with the Jury Management System (JMS) vendor to develop a routine that would generate a report over a specified date range listing potential jurors who indicated on the juror questionnaire that they are not citizens. In Sept. 2005, AOUSC provided sample language for district court jury plans for notifying state officials of such potential jurors. In Nov. 2006, version 6.0 of the JMS was released to the courts that could produce a "non-citizen" report. In March 2008, version 6.0.1 of the JMS was released. It included a new data field that enabled the courts to produce a report that showed those prospective jurors whose names came from the voter rolls and who indicated that they were non-citizens.
Recommendation: To assist state election officials in identifying individuals on voter registration lists who may be ineligible to vote because of their felon or non-citizen status, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should determine the feasibility and steps necessary to implement a requirement that U.S. district court jury administrators provide notice to state election officials of potential jurors who identify themselves as non-citizens on their jury qualification questionnaire.
Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts