New database rejects eligible voters

Californias new voter registration database, whose creation thefederal government once called a model for other states, mayprevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots in a June6 statewide election, officials fear.

Since the database was implemented last December, the voterregistration process has been invalidating numerous registrations,mostly as a result of minor data-entry problems.

For example, 14,629 out of 34,064 voter registration forms — or43 percent — were “kicked out,” or rejected, in Los Angeles Countybetween Jan. 1 and March 15. Such results have election officialsstatewide fearing that the new registration system will bumpeligible voters from the voter rolls.

The problems could first affect a small number of localelections starting this month, including a special congressionalelection on Tuesday in San Diego County.

The registration database, run by Secretary of State BruceMcPherson, was mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act(HAVA). The law requires that each state establish a centralizedvoter registration database.

In an e-mail response to questions, a spokeswoman for McPhersonwouldn’t provide technical details of the system, nor would shetalk about the nature of the problems. She did note that 74 percentof voter registrations are cleared on the first try. The rest, shesaid, require manual validation by county elections workers.

Elaine Ginnold, registrar of voters for Alameda County, said therejection rate there hovers around 10 percent, a total that wouldbe expected with any new system. However, she also noted that thenew system could kick out eligible voters.

County election officials said the new registration systemrequires that potential voters provide a driver’s license number orother identifying information to a county registrar. The data iskeyed into a local database and periodically uploaded to the newcentralized system, which matches it with information from theCalifornia Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies toverify that it’s authentic.

The rigorous system will reject applications whose data doesn’texactly match the confirming documents. Even small discrepancies,such as a missing middle initial, could cause an application to berejected.

“My main concern is there could be 20,000 to 30,000 newregistration cards delivered to Alameda County at the registrationdeadline,” Ginnold said. The deadline for the state election is May22.

The registration information takes a week to process into theAlameda database before it is sent to the state database formatching, which can take up to five days, Ginnold said. “We wouldget the kick-outs only a few days before the election — whichwon’t allow enough time to manually validate them,” she said.

The potential problems have provided fodder for McPherson’scritics, who claim that he selected rigid guidelines that couldunfairly penalize voters.

The voter database has “been a disaster for anyone who is tryingto register for the first time or reregister because they moved,got married and need to change their name or change parties,” saidCalifornia State Sen. Debra Bowen, who held a hearing this week onthe matter. A spokesman for Bowen said the rejection rate should bebetween 1 percent and 2 percent.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces HAVA, worked withMcPherson’s office as the system was being crafted.

The secretary of state’s office has set up processes to offerguidance to counties and voters on fulfilling the new requirements,McPherson’s spokeswoman said. He has also proposed legislation to”provide common-sense flexibility so that no eligible voter shouldbe denied the opportunity to vote because of a technicality,” shesaid.

Ginnold said that ultimately, a centralized database that has asingle entry for each voter can successfully prevent fraud.Previously, election officials relied on local databases andregistration rules, and exact matches weren’t required.

“The goal is excellent, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that,”Ginnold said. “The road is a little rocky now.”

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