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Department of Licensing failed to turn over voter registrations, Secretary of State says

Washingtonians who recently registered to vote using the Department of Licensing’s website may not have actually been added to the rolls, the Secretary of State’s office disclosed today in a late afternoon media advisory.

The Department of Licensing, which issues driver’s licenses, vehicle licenses, and boat licenses, allows voters to request that their voter registration be updated when they update their driver’s license. DOL also allows Washingtonians to register to vote when obtaining a license through its website.

But apparently, DOL hasn’t been forwarding these new and updated voter registrations to the Secretary of State’s office. Until last Friday, that is.

The Secretary of State’s office says a total of 21,000 voters may potentially be affected in some way by the blunder.

Here’s a more detailed explanation from co-elections director Katie Blinn:

When people update their address for their driver’s license with the state Department of Licensing, they can also request to update their address for voter registration purposes. This program is commonly known as Motor-Voter. DOL recently added a question about voter registration to its address update page on its website. However, the Secretary of State’s office has not been receiving these voter registration updates from DOL, and therefore has not been able to pass these updates on to the county elections offices. The Secretary of State’s Office just received the information Friday evening, just two business days before Election Day.

Obviously, ballots have already been mailed to voters, so this is a problem. The question is… how big of a problem?

Approximately 14,800 address updates were submitted to DOL that were not received by the Secretary of State’s Office. However, we think that county elections offices had already received some of these address changes due to voters contacting the elections office directly, or receiving address update information from the Post Office.

We think? Wouldn’t it be better to know for sure?

An additional 5,900 people requested to update their voter registration information on the DOL website, but were not previously registered. The information previously provided by the DOL address update system is not sufficient to complete a new voter registration so these people will be receiving a notice from their county elections office asking them to complete the registration. They can respond to the notice or fill out a new voter registration form. If anyone wants to vote in this General Election, they can go to their county elections office to vote a provisional ballot and complete the registration.

Great. So that means nearly six thousand people who thought they’d done what they needed to do to be added to the rolls didn’t actually get added, and now they’re going to have jump through more hoops in order to vote.

So that’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news: Anyone who has not received a ballot but believes they should have may still participate in the election by voting a provisional ballot. An outdated registration is still a valid registration – Blinn says state law allows a voter to vote a ballot for an old address until the voter registration file is updated.

Voters can check their registration status at the Secretary of State’s website. If the site says you are not registered but you think you should be, Blinn says you should go to your county elections office or voting center. She adds:

If there is a question regarding your eligibility to vote, you are always eligible to vote a provisional ballot. Your voter registration status will be researched after the election, and the races and ballot measures on which you are eligible to vote will be counted.

Do the same thing if you received a ballot for the wrong address.

To us, this blunder is just a reminder that we need automatic voter registration. Voting shouldn’t have to be a hassle. Registering to vote should not be necessary. We need an opt-out system for voting, not an opt-in system.

We should add children to our voter registration database at birth. (We issue Social Security numbers to newborns – why not voter registrations?)

A young person’s registration should be automatically activated on his or her eighteenth birthday if the state can verify that he or she still lives in Washington (which shouldn’t be too hard, especially since many young people apply for learner’s permits or driver’s licenses prior to their eighteenth birthdays).

Additionally, adults who apply for driver’s licenses, passports, or other states services should be registered automatically if their citizenship can be verified.

And once a voter is on the rolls, her registration should follow her, at least if she relocates within the state. We’ve got the technology to be able to update registrations when people move. We should put it to use.

One Comment

  1. Kathryne Anasule
    Posted November 14th, 2011 at 6:39 PM | Permalink

    We need to do better, that’s for sure. Mistakes like this are inexcusable. I like your idea of automatic voter registration.

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