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Voting Groups Caution Michigan Election Officials on eve of National Secretary of State Conference

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SharonRB Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-28-08 12:30 PM
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Voting Groups Caution Michigan Election Officials on eve of National Secretary of State Conference
This press release went out last week regarding potential voting problems in Michigan. Sheila Smith, currently political director at Michigan ACORN, is running for Oakland County Clerk. I'm working on her campaign. This is a serious problem, and we need to keep our eyes on the ball. If elected in November, Sheila will work to end these kinds of problems, but she can't do anything about this year's election.

If you live in Oakland County, please vote for her. She is running unopposed on the Dem side of the November ballot so has no primary next week.

For Immediate Release

Contacts:
Gustavo Vieira, Advancement Project / 202.728.9557
Jan BenDor, MERA / 734-484-1744
Jerome Reide, Michigan NAACP / 517.667.0568
Sheila Smith, ACORN / 313-963-1840

VOTING GROUPS CAUTION MICHIGAN ELECTION OFFICIALS ON EVE OF NATIONAL SECRETARY OF STATE CONFERENCE

(DETROIT, July 24, 2008) Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land will host her fellow secretaries of state at the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan to discuss wide-ranging issues related to election reform and the 2008 election cycle. At the same time, advocates from the Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA), the Michigan State Conference of the NAACP, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) are expressing concerns with the possibility of massive voter disenfranchisement in Michigan during the 2008 election season, resulting from a series of unlawful purge programs undertaken or sanctioned by state election officials. The local groups, working with Advancement Project, a national civil rights group, have uncovered potential election problems that could impact hundreds of thousands of potential voters across the state.

We have acted in good faith with Secretary Land and Chris Thomas from the very beginning. We have consistently and formally communicated our concerns about purge programs conducted by the Department of State, but have yet to make any progress with them in trying to resolve these issues before November, said Jan BenDor, a MERA statewide coordinator and a Michigan accredited election administrator. Secretary Land and Mr. Thomas are public officials, and they have an obligation to meet with the public to address legitimate concerns regarding elections in this state. Their continued refusal to do so is quite troubling, in our opinion.

Yvonne White, president of the Michigan State Conference of the NAACP, considers a sit-down meeting with state election officials to be instrumental in avoiding many foreseeable problems that voters may face on Election Day. However, White is concerned with the Bureaus recent refusal to meet. Our goal is to prevent problems from occurring before the election, not after, and to do that, we need to have honest and open dialogue with our election officials, said White.

ACORNs Michigan political director, Sheila Smith, is concerned about the impact of Michigans purge programs on communities traditionally underrepresented in the electoral process. Because the State will potentially be taking hundreds of thousands of eligible voters off of the rolls, there is a huge concern in the minority and low-income communities in which we work, because these communities are usually the ones most negatively impacted by statewide purges. Smith echoed the other groups concerns about the need for transparency and open dialogue with state election officials: All we are asking is for Mr. Thomas and the other state election officials to do their jobs. We are approaching them with open arms to try to address, and ultimately resolve, some of the major concerns before they cause irreparable harm to the citizens of Michigan on Election Day. Voter registration and voter turnout in Michigan, like in many other states across the country, is likely to be unprecedented, so we need to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote is allowed to do so.

Edward Hailes, Jr., senior attorney at Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that focuses on increasing democratic participation in low-income and minority communities, reinforced the concerns of local voter advocates. Community leaders are understandably troubled by the resistance of Michigans election officials, who are paid by taxpayer dollars, to have an open dialogue about the voting rights of its citizens. This lack of transparency makes a mockery of our democracy, said Hailes.

Michigans Allegedly Unlawful Purge Programs

MERA, NAACP, and ACORN contend that that several of Michigans statewide purge programs do not comply with federal and state election laws in a variety of ways. For instance:

In July 2006, the Bureau of Elections mailed nonforwardable postcards to all of Michigan's registered voters, for purposes of identifying voters whose addresses did not appear to be current. Then, in August 2006, the state scanned in about half of the returned postcards and sent residency confirmation notices to an estimated 230,000 voters whose postcards were returned as undeliverable. This August, the 2006 mailing triggered a cancellation countdown that will eventually result in the voters being purged from the rolls in or after November 2008, unless the affected voters appear to vote or otherwise make contact with their city or township clerks in the interim. The voting rights groups believe this 2006 purge program was illegal because (a) it was conducted within 90 days of the August 2006 federal primary election; (b) no effort was made to differentiate between voters whose postcards were returned for temporary reasons, such as vacation holds or temporary inaccessibility to the mailbox, and voters who had permanent change of address notices; and (c) the state failed to maintain and make available for public inspection the lists of voters who were slated to be purged.

The Michigan Department of State, which administers both drivers license and voter registration records, uses a streamlined procedure for immediately canceling the registrations of Michigan voters who receive drivers licenses in other states. Instead of issuing the appropriate confirmation of registration notices and following the other voter removal procedures required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), the Department of State immediately cancels those persons voter registrations and instructs the local city or township clerk to issue an after-the-fact cancellation notice to the affected voters. According to the Departments own estimations, over 280,000 voters per year are removed from the rolls in this manner.
A provision of Michigan election law instructs city and township clerks to immediately reject the applications of new voter registrants who are otherwise qualified to vote whenever their original voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable. The voting rights groups contend this violates the NVRA because that law (a) requires states to immediately register any eligible applicant who completes and timely submits a valid voter registration form and (b) prohibits states from removing registered voters from the rolls (for reasons other than death, criminal conviction, mental incapacity, or specific voter request) without following the specific confirmation of registration procedures outlined in the NVRA. In addition, the advocates claim that this Michigan law violates the U.S. Constitution by conditioning an individuals fundamental right to vote on irrelevant and arbitrary external factors out of the voters control, such as the receipt of a particular piece of mail through an often-unreliable U.S. Postal Service. While statewide figures are unavailable at this time, officials estimate that approximately 30,000 newly registered voters per year in the City of Detroit alone are removed from the rolls as a result of the return of an original voter identification card.
Federal Requirements for Voter Removal Programs

A federal law, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), mandates that states perform regular list maintenance to ensure that their statewide voter registration lists remain current and accurate. However, HAVA requires states to conduct their purge programs in a manner that ensures that no eligible voters are erroneously removed from the rolls. In addition, any voter removal programs must comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), more commonly known as the Motor Voter law. The NVRA prohibits states from removing voters unless the removal arises from the specific request of the voter; a criminal conviction or mental incapacity determination related to the voter; the death of the voter; or a change in the voters residence.

Whenever a state seeks to purge a voter because of a suspected change in the voters residence, the NVRA first requires the state to send a confirmation of registration notice to the voter, along with a postage prepaid return card. The state must then allow the voter two federal general election cycles to confirm their registration, respond to the notice, or otherwise correct their voter registration records. (Federal general elections occur in November of every even-numbered year.) If the voter appears to vote within that period or makes any other contact with the election authorities, such as completing a new registration application or requesting and absentee ballot, he or she must be removed from the purge list. Only after the passage of two federal general elections with no contact from the voter can the state remove the voter. The NVRA prohibits states from conducting most voter removal programs within 90 days of any federal election (primary or general). In addition, the NVRA mandates that states maintain detailed records of the names and addresses of any voters removed from the rolls for a minimum of two years and that they make these lists available to the public for inspection and copying.
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