Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jacobs' Double Registration A Common Thing

Matt Schultz has yet to charge GOP US Senate candidate Mark Jacobs with voter fraud for the recent revelation that's he's simultaneously registered to vote in both Iowa and Texas. This rare restraint is actually a good thing.

Oh, it's a problem for Jacobs, sure, just as it's a problem for Senate candidate Liz Cheney, whose husband found himself registered in both Wyoming and Virginia. But the problem is simply a political embarrassment, a reminder to the press and public of the major criticism against both Cheney and Jacobs: that their adult ties to their states of birth are tenuous.

Judgement on that will be passed by the voters, not the courts. Those trial dates are later. For now, I'll look at some of the reasons this is a common problem and more of a glitch that a crime.

Most of you readers know I've worked in the auditor's office for 16 years, so for this story I'll be my own source.

IИ SФVIЗT ЯЦSSIД VФTЭ Я3GISTЭЯS УФЦ! Seriously. Most countries handle voter registration as part of a census or address registration process. But in the US, the burden is on you, the voter, which means the data is self-reported.

That includes current addresses and old addresses. There's a spot on the form to put down a former address. That's because we're required to notify the old jurisdiction that you've moved-which of course relies on you telling us in the first place.

Within the state it's easy and has improved a lot since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. There's a statewide database. You move from Ankeny to Iowa City? We look you up and take you away from Polk County in one step.

But if you move from Rock Island? We can't get into the Illinois database.  We have to count on you knowing you were registered there and telling us. Then we have to send a notice to Rock Island. And then we have to count on Rock Island getting it and processing it.

Which isn't HARD but frankly if it's presidential election crunch time we work on the people who want to vote here and now first, and play catch-up on the cancellations both incoming and outgoing. There are some cross-state checking processes which have started the last few years. Those are slow and tend to get worked on during "down time."

There's also an annual mailing based on data from the postal service, which I'll talk about more when we do it. One step of this process is a status called "inactive" registration which no one outside of an auditor's office seems to understand. Think of it as preliminary cancellation. You can even send the card, which is really poorly designed and non-intuitive back to us and check the box that says "yes I moved to Wyoming," but if you forget to SIGN it we can't dump you.

Rarest of all: a person who comes in and actually asks to be un-registered. Usually it's for an unusual reason and usually un-registering doesn't solve it, and almost never is it about "I'm moving away." We actually had one last week, took three of us to find the form.

Remember, normal people who don't read political blogs on a Sunday morning think about this process every two or four years. They frequently don't remember whether they last voted in their parent town or their college town or that place they had a job for one year.

Even more often they can't remember a four year old address or the name of the county. If they're in an office with me standing there I encourage anything. Just "Illinois" helps. But if they're doing it on their own, or with a campaign staffer who's in a hurry and only cares about NOW, it can get left blank without invalidating the registration.

So all these things are just human error, simple mistakes in a bureaucratic process. Actually, you can say that about virtually all of the "fraud" our Secretary of State is seeking so diligently.

No comments: