Editorial | Voter lists

Real problems, false solutions with voter lists

EVEN AS legislators in many states promote ID laws as the solution to an imaginary epidemic of voting fraud, the real deficiencies in America’s voter-registration processes go unaddressed.

A new report by the Pew Center on the States estimates that about 24 million voter registrations across the country are inaccurate or outdated. But rather than calling for new obstacles to those seeking to vote, the study rightfully puts the burden where it belongs: on state election officials who have not adapted to new technology and a highly mobile population.

The Pew study examined state records from voter lists and other sources, such as the National Change of Address database run by the Postal Service. It found that almost 2 million registered voters are deceased. And nearly 3 million voters are on more than one state’s list, a not entirely surprising fact given that 1 in 8 Americans moved between the 2008 and 2010 elections.


What is essentially a paper-based system dependent on manual data entry carries a stiff cost: The per-voter average is about $4. Meanwhile, in Canada, which has moved to electronic registration, the average is 35 cents.

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Fortunately, solutions are achievable. The report calls for more sophisticated data checks and matching techniques (such as linking change of address forms with election databases) to begin correcting the errors. Pew has worked with states in the past to promote online registration, reducing costs and mistakes. Presently, a number of states are working toward a centralized data system to update their voter rolls.

A reliable system of voter registration is the foundation of a strong and inclusive process. Supposed voter fraud is a sideshow to the real test of our democracy: the reliability of the information about those who choose to vote.