[Verbatim statement]As reported yesterday in the online news outlet The Missoulian, the Republican Party of Montana is challenging the eligibility to vote of at least 6,000 residents of that statemostly in key Democratic strongholdsbased solely on the fact that the residents have filed change-of-address cards with the U.S. Postal Service. While state GOP Executive Director Jacob Eaton claims the challenges are an attempt to protect "the integrity of the voting process," such massive challenges at this late date threaten to overwhelm election officials, suppress turnout of eligible voters, and create chaos at the polls.
Today Teresa James, attorney for the voting rights organization Project Vote, and author of the 2007 report Caging Democracy: A 50-Year History of Partisan Challenges to Minority Voters, issued the following statement in response:
"The Republican challengers are demonstrating that they would rather purge eligible voters from the rolls than hear their voices at the polls. This sort of mass voter caging may serve partisan desires to keep the opposition from voting, but it does nothing to ensure that only eligible citizens vote. To the contrary, it interferes in the conduct of a lawful and fair election. Under state and federal laws a person does not lose the right to vote simply because he or she has moved. A Montana citizen can update his or her registration at any time up to and including Election Day, and federal law has clear procedures that must be followed when a change of address form is filed with the United States Postal Office. Private, partisan interference in this lawful process does a disservice to Montana, and to overburdened election officials who work hard to see that all eligible citizens get to vote.
These baseless challenges are just the latest in a long series of voter caging operations designed to intimidate voters and winnow voting lists to the challengers' liking. Like the recently reported attempts to challenge voters in Michigan who appear on foreclosure listings, like the massive challenges of voters that occurred in Ohio in 2004, this latest assault on eligible voters is disguised as a protection against the partisan myth of ineligible voters trying to cast ballots. In reality, voter fraud by individuals is incredibly rare, and the mass challenge plan simply represents a cynical partisan attempt to intimidate eligible Montana residentsa disproportionate number of whom will be low-income citizens, minorities, and residents under 30, all of whom are more likely to move more often.
Changing your address does not mean that you lose your right to vote. Everyone has the right to vote, Montana law allows voters to update their registrations, or file a new registration, at any time up until the polls close on Election Day. If voters move to another county within 30 days of the election, they can vote at their old precincts. Furthermore, federal law protects voters who many have moved without updating their registrations. Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) "a person who has moved from one address to another within the same jurisdiction may vote at his or her former polling place and update their registration at that time." Under the NVRA, election officials are prohibited from removing a voter from the rolls based on changes-of-address unless a voter has requested the change in writing, or has failed to respond to a forwardable notice AND failed to vote in two federal election cycles.
In light of state and federal protections, challenging every voter who has done nothing but file a change of address with the United States Post Office would serve no purpose other than to interfere with the orderly conduct of the election and intimidate those voters who are not aware of their legal options under the laws of Montana and the United States. Election officials, not partisan operatives, should decide who is eligible to cast a ballot.
Further, there is no guarantee that Montana Republicans have created an accurate list of people who have moved. Matching lists with government databases is a notoriously unreliable process. Two weeks ago in New Jersey a cross-check of the motor vehicle database against voter registration records turned up hundreds of thousands of names that could not be exactly matched to the voter lists; election officials created mass confusion when they began sending letters informing these residents that they were not on the rolls, when many of them were in fact properly registered but failed to match in the system. Wisconsin abandoned its proposed database matching program because a test of their system also turned up so many false-negatives, including four out of the six judges on the Government Accountability Board that oversees elections. Relying on list-matching rather than taking the extra step of verifying the information is reckless and irresponsible.
According to U.S. Census data, more than 16% of all Americanslargely low-income, minority, and young peoplechanged their residence in 2006. By current estimates, 16% of the eligible voting population represents as many as 32 million Americans nationwide. These Americans do not leave their votes behind when they move, and the NVRA protects every one of them."
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Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes voting in historically underrepresented communities. In 2008, Project Vote plans to help 1.3 million Americans register to vote in the country's largest nonpartisan voter registration program.
For more information: http://www.projectvote.org
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