WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday said history will never know how many would-be voters were disenfranchised on Election Day 2000 because of inaccurate registration lists. In the first day of a two-day series of hearings on election reform before the Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman noted that experts have estimated that 2.5 million ballots cast were discarded. But no one knows how many Americans never even got the opportunity to cast a ballot because of incomplete or inaccurate registration lists.
“In the last century, voter registration was one of the more serious barriers to the ballot,” Lieberman said. “And today, for many citizens, it remains a barrier. The integrity of any self-governed democracy derives from the right of its citizens to vote. When that right is experienced unequally, the strength and integrity of our democracy is diminished.”
Widespread problems with voter registration rolls in last year’s elections, however, can be resolved, witnesses told the panel. Maryland Secretary of State John Willis said his state was constructing a statewide, computerized registration data base that precinct workers will be able to access in real time, on election day, to verify an individual’s registration. Washington state Director of Elections Gary McIntosh said his state allows “provisional voting,” whereby a voter whose registration is questioned may cast a ballot that will not be counted until the challenge to his registration is resolved.
“Those methods ensure nobody gets turned away from the polls,” Lieberman said.
Thursday’s hearing focused on registration issues. A second hearing, scheduled for May 9, will focus on problems experienced once voters gained access to the voting booth.
Lieberman also commended the National Voter Registration Act, or Motor Voter law, which was passed in 1993 with the intent of broadening the franchise by making registration available in convenient locations, like a state motor vehicle office. According to a 1999 Federal Elections Commission survey, 75 percent of registration applications were submitted at motor vehicle departments, other state agencies, or by mail. Voter registration was up 4 percent in two years — an addition of more than 7 million voters to the rolls. Yet, some states are still struggling to keep their rolls clean and to ensure that the applications submitted at agencies like the DMV are actually sent to the registrar with all the necessary information.
“We must all take responsibility for these problems,” Lieberman said. “But in working with state and local governments to craft a solution, we must be mindful that our ultimate goal is to assure all Americans that their votes do and will count.