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Center warns against disenfranchising voters
McClatchy Newspapers


September 18, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Leaders of a voting-rights center that successfully sued Florida, Washington, Ohio and other states over their election laws said Wednesday tens of thousands of eligible voters will be prevented from casting ballots in November.




Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, said federal and state voting changes since the disputed 2000 presidential election have produced new threats to eligible voters.

Several states have overreacted to the 2002 Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress to prevent a repeat of the 2000 stalemate, by passing draconian laws and imposing rigid regulations on voter registration, Waldman said.

"Most of the significant voter suppression in this country happens not on Election Day, but before Election Day," he said.

Waldman cited serious problems in a dozen states:

- California, Florida, Washington, Missouri and other states have passed laws limiting the ability of churches, unions, the League of Women Voters and other nonprofit groups to conduct voter-registration drives.

- California, Florida, Washington and other states are using rigid standards in matching voter-registration information with driver's licenses or Social Security numbers.

- Florida, Washington, Kentucky and other states have removed eligible voters from their registration lists in aggressive purges meant to remove felons, deceased voters or duplicate names.

"These are not merely bad practices," Waldman said. "They are illegal. They violate the Constitution or they violate (federal) election law."

Many of the problems stem from the states' attempts to comply with the 2002 federal election-reform law. The law requires states to create centralized databases of registered voters and gives them money to buy electronic voting equipment.

About 80 percent of all ballots cast Nov. 7 across the country will be made or tabulated via computer.

Waldman said that while the electronic machines eliminate the "hanging chad" problems of punch-out ballots, the machines are susceptible to hacking and have other security problems. He said only Minnesota and New York have taken adequate steps to ensure their equipment's security.

A report by three lawyers with the Brennan Center praised four states for using practices that help people register and vote: New York, Minnesota, Nebraska and Oregon.


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