Voter Suppression through Bureaucratic Lethargy

My 24-year-old daughter, Sara Bacon, went to the polls in Richmond yesterday to vote. She’d never had much interest in politics before, but she’d made the effort this year to research both of the presidential candidates and make a choice. But when she arrived at the polling station, she was informed that there was no record of her registration. She was not allowed to cast her ballot.

Sara drove downtown to City Hall and talked to someone in the registrar’s office. Here’s her reconstruction of what happened. After graduating from college, Sara had moved out to Wyoming. Because she had no intention of relocating there permanently and thought that she could move back home at any time, she maintained her official residence in Richmond. She kept a Virginia driver’s license, paid Virginia taxes and registered to vote in Richmond.

At some point during her two-year stay in Wyoming, the city sent her a notice to serve on a jury. Sara sent back the form stating that she was living outside the state and unable to comply. Then, without notifying her, the city purged her name from the voting rolls. Sara returned to Richmond in August, staying in her mother’s house where she had grown up and having no basis whatsoever to suspect that she was no longer registered to vote.

Now, the United States is a mobile society, lots of people move, and municipal governments do need to purge their voter rolls. I have no problem with that. I don’t even have a problem with the city’s decision to purge Sara based on her inability to report for jury duty. But I have a very big problem with the fact that the city never informed her that she was no longer registered. If she had known, she could have re-registered when she moved back to Richmond in August. But there was nothing that anyone could do on voting day to fix the problem.

I hear a lot of loose talk on television and in the newspapers about “voter suppression,” usually with the implication that evil forces are trying to reduce the turnout of minority voters. My hunch is that bureaucratic inertia is responsible for supressing far more votes than the machinations of one political party or the other.

The city of Richmond elected a new mayor yesterday — Dwight Jones. He comes across as a reasonable man. Let us hope that he enacts a very simple reform: ensure that voters are informed in writing when they’ve been purged from the voting rolls. Otherwise, taxpaying citizens can add one more reason to move to suburban counties: ensuring themselves the right to vote.

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9 responses to “Voter Suppression through Bureaucratic Lethargy”

  1. I think there is a valid complaint.

    There is a group that specializes in things like this…. hmmm.. what is their name…???

    OH .. ACORN… right?


    seriously.. perhaps she should have checked back in…when she returned…

    I stood behind a young man yesterday… for 45 minutes.. and then when he got to the table – he found out he was at the wrong precinct….

    I dunno.. on one hand.. we have folks saying that if one can prove they are a resident that they should be able to vote – period….

    and on the other hand we have folks saying.. that ..that kind of approach … encourages abuse.

    what’s the right answer?

  2. welcome to Republican vote suppression, circa 2004.

    And I’m sorry: it is republicans across the country who make the noise to send out these letters and remove voters from the rolls.

    And it is stupid: the people they tend to target are college students and military. College students vote D, but it pisses their parents off. Military tends to vote R.

    Yes, we can debate endlessly whether they are stupid or just evil, but the result is the same: people can’t vote.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I am completely in sympthy with your daughter and think it’s an atrocity. I couldn’t even get an absentee ballot for my mom who’s in assisted living.

    However, consider my plight withg my car.

    In 1993 I lived in New York City and owned a small car registered in New York State. I was about to be trransferred to Moscow where I didn’t need my own car. So, I took it to my family home in North Carolina, which was to be my permanent address, and sold the car. The dealer said he’d send the plates back to Albany.
    In 1996, I was returning to the state and was being sent to Cleveland from Moscow. When I tried to get an Ohio driver’s license, I was denied, saying New York had put a “hold” on my geting a license. After hours on the phone, I learned that New York never got the license plates from the sold car so when my car insurance renewal came up later on and I hadn’t renewed it, NY used that as cause to spread an all DMV bulletin to deny me a license. So here I was, getting screwed over because I hadn’t paid insurance for a car I no longer owned.

    Go figure.


  4. saaaayyyyy … that’s what they ought to do about folks that vote when they should not…

    just hound them to the ends of the earth.. and put a future hold on all future attempts to vote….

    we’d call this .. gee.. what is the opposite of “suppression” – after the fact?

    I got it – voter regression…

    but the idea is sound… if Peter wrongly registers …no more voting for him…

  5. ex-blogger Avatar

    Did your daughter ever vote absentee while in Wyoming?

    I worked for a day as a volunteer at the State Board of Elections in their call center. I took 55 calls. An overwhelming number were citizens who had lived in one and sometimes up to four different places since they last voted. Many didn’t remember where they had last voted or last registered. I checked six counties for someone who thought he had last registered in Chesterfield, only to find him registered in Hanover.

    I believe we need to have a major voter registration/verification weekend every year in spring or summer. Electoral Boards, staffed (probably rightfully) for the sleepy elections, can’t be fully efficient or effective under the huge strain of record new voters and thousands of lapsed voters trying to get information at the last minute.

    Maybe the experience of this election will inspire more citizens to vote more often and check earlier, but they should have a convenient opportunity to do this. Only then would I be in favor of telling citizens, “Sorry, but you have to take responsibility for your voter registration or lack thereof.”

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Given the circumstances, she should have been allowed to vote. But, everyone’s circumstances are different….that’s the problem.

    Take the extreme example such as dying. At what point are dead people taken off the voter rolls? I seriously doubt they look at the obit’s and take you off that way.

    How was the Registrar supposed to inform her that she was being removed from the voting rolls if she was no longer in the state?

    They could have sent a notification to her last “known” address, telling her she was being removed which would have worked, but that won’t work for everyone.

    If you want to vote, I think it’s up to the individual to make sure you are registered. I remember seeing several “alerts” telling people that the last day to register was getting close.

    Couldn’t she have voted on on a provisional ballot? If you do that and knowingly lie aren’t there criminal consequences?

  7. well.. you could have a national database – including one for death certificates – perhaps using SSNs and each Registraur would have a standard process of running the names in their list against the names in the deceased list and THEN doing some kind of follow-up.

    A similar process could be used to bounce voter lists against the DMV list

    but in the end – if you are not registered ahead of time and have the appropriate documentation – then expecting the precinct workers to verify your status – in real time – isn’t that expecting a lot?

    If someone stopped you and asked you to PROVE that the address you provide is legitimate – how would you do it? How would they know you were presenting them with CURRENT documentation?

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Sara has weighed in with responses and elucidations to some of the points raised above. I reprint them verbatim (correcting only for puncuation. — JB:

    – I never voted absentee in Wy and I never registered to vote there.

    – There was no confusion about where I was registered to vote. The one and only address that I ever used for my voter registration was ______ Road.

    – I checked my registration status in June in order to apply for in-state tuition for J Sarg[eant Reynolds Community College]. Five months ago, i was still a registered voter in Va – how often should a person have to check their status?!

    – I supplied the city with my Wyoming address when I responded to my jury duty summons, so they could have sent notification to me in Wy.

    – I was offered the option to vote using a provisional ballot, but i was told that the only way that my vote would have been cast was if my response to jury duty said that I was in Wy because i was a student. I was not a student, so I would not have said that I was, therefore, my provisional ballot would have been useless.

  9. I think Sara touched on a potential solution and that would be a standard procedure for someone to be able to check their voting status whenever they wished…

    or… for it to be listed on their tax bills/forms.DMV… etc…

    it just seems like in this day and time… having to do this manually on the day you vote is just not employing modern available technology…to deal with this issue.

    If the localities, state and Feds can find you to get your taxes… they should also be able to provide you with your current voting status.

    I still believe that there are some folks out there who really prefer that it not be easy to vote…

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