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National Issues

EAC Continues Debate on National Mail Voter Registration Form PDF  | Print |  Email
By Sean Greene, electionline.org   
November 16, 2007

Four states requesting changes to state-specific instructions awaiting action

 

This article was published in the Electionline Weekly and is reposted here with permission of the author. 

 

At a public meeting held this week, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) continued its discussion of establishing interim procedures for responding to requests to make changes to state-specific instructions to the National Mail Voter Registration Form.

 

However, nothing was settled at the hearing, leaving states waiting for responses as the 2008 election season rapidly approaches.

 

Prior to the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was in charge of promulgating regulations under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), including making changes to the instructions for the national registration form.

 

As previously reported in electionline weekly, HAVA shifted this authority to the EAC, and the commission is currently considering transferring the regulations from the FEC or promulgating new regulations entirely. A public comment period on a plan to potentially undertake a transfer ends December 3, 2007. According to Edgardo Cortes, an election research specialist at the EAC, only one comment has been submitted so far.

 

In the meantime, though, states are filing requests with the EAC to make changes to the federal form instructions. EAC chair Donetta Davidson, a Republican appointee, introduced a potential procedure to address the issue, at least on a short-term basis.

"The EAC has the obligation and authority under NVRA to act on these requests, even if it has not yet promulgated regulations which would assist the agency in these efforts. The purpose of this policy is to provide the EAC with written temporary procedures regarding the processing of state requests for changes to the Federal Registration Form's state specific instructions," the proposal stated.

 

Davidson had emailed her fellow commissioners this proposal one hour prior to the meeting, which did not sit well with Commissioner Rosemary Rodriguez, a Democratic appointee. Commissioner Gracia Hillman, the panel's other Democrat, also raised questions about the proposed framework, which was not brought to a vote.

 

Hillman was more upset when Davidson then proposed to vote on the specific requests from the four states, stating she was not aware these issues would be voted on at this meeting. "I am not prepared to vote yes or no on state requests," she said.

Davidson then suggested all commissioners be given 48 hours to study the requests and then hold a tally vote - not a public vote. Rodriguez objected, stating votes with such ramifications should be conducted in public. She suggested calling an emergency meeting, which as of press time is one of the options the chair is considering.

 

The requests from the four states run the gamut from basic issues such as changing secretary of state address information to more controversial issues of voter eligibility. One, per the request of Arizona officials, would change instructions on the federal form for use in the state to require proof of citizenship for those registering to vote for the first time in Arizona or for those who have moved to another county in Arizona. The new language also provides a list of acceptable documents.

 

The request, which stemmed from the passage of a proposition, has been the source of an almost two-year battle between Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer (R) and the EAC. (See here and here for more information from electionline.org.)

 

In early 2006 the commission's executive director sent Brewer a letter stating, "The Federal Form sets the proof required to demonstrate voter qualification. No state may condition acceptance of the Federal Form upon receipt of additional proof."

 

The commissioners themselves were divided on the issue at the time and it appears they might be divided again. At an October 2007 EAC public meeting, Commissioner Caroline Hunter, a Republican appointee, said she believed states should be able to determine what eligibility requirements should be included on the forms.

"It's very clear that the form can have not only whatever the state law has in their eligibility section of their law but whatever the states deems necessary to establish eligibility," she said.

 

A proposal at the October meeting from Hunter led to a split 2-2 vote among the commissioners.

 

Advocacy groups have also objected to (and sued and lost over) Arizona's requirement.

 

"Many American citizens do not have any of the required forms of ID including a certified copy of their birth certificate and it costs a significant amount to get one. People should not have to pay to register to vote," stated the League of Women Voters.

 

The citizenship requirement, though, has so far survived court challenges and Secretary Brewer has threatened to sue the EAC due to their failure to amend the NVRA forms. Last month she expressed her displeasure in person to the commission.

 

"As it stands now, by not properly informing voters, you are accomplishing nothing. To be sure, anyone who utilizes the Federal Form and doesn't provide sufficient proof of citizenship is still being rejected in Arizona. Thus, the actions of the EAC to not include instructions on the form proves not to be a loophole to getting around Arizona law, rather it simply serves as a way to disenfranchise voters from participating in the election process."

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