Democrats & Liberals Archives

Motor Voter Act: How voters are bureaucratically disenfranchised

When the Motor Voter act was signed into law in 1993, the idea was simple: make the electorate larger, more diverse and more reflective of the American public by reducing the barriers for American citizens to vote.

However, with Pennsylvania's upcoming 2008 primary election less than a week away, many voters who show up to vote may find that they are not on the voting roles. Not because they didn't fill out the correct form. Not because they aren't eligible. Many may not be eligible to vote because of the Motor Voter Act.

In many cases, since its final adoption in 1995, Motor Voter succeeded in bridging the gap for many previously disenfranchised voters and opened up avenues for the youth and people with disabilities. However one thing that Motor Voter did not account for was serious technical and bureaucratic problems.

Those technical and bureaucratic problems created their own brand of voter disenfranchisement. And, in the 2006 election, specifically Pennsylvania, where there are still a couple of undecided state house races, Motor Voter, and its new brand of disenfranchisement, created a host of problems that the courts may soon need to decide.

In Pennsylvania, each county has an election board and a county voter services department. Each voter services department manages the rolls of registered voters within their county. Each state has different laws, but for Pennsylvania, voter services will purge voters from the rolls, voters that have been inactive in the last five years.
Pennsylvania also has a department of transportation. And as part of the Motor Voter act, PennDot provides the ability to register to vote, while registering for your driver’s license. But since PennDot’s computer system doesn’t communicate with the Voter Services department of each county, both systems live separate lives. Because neither department share data with one another, the Motor Voter act relies solely on the manual, paper process. This process of sending the paperwork to Harrisburg, then forwarding the paperwork to the particular county for processing is viewed at PennDot and Voter Services level as a convenience. In fact, when someone registers to vote or changes their voting registration address at PennDot they receive a receipt of this action. As if to say, thank you Voting Citizen, you are registered to vote in the wonderful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The voter sees this process as a process not a convenience.

The problem occurs when a voter follows the procedure correctly and appears at the polling place, only to find that they are not on the active, voting rolls. And this is what exactly happened across Pennsylvania during the 2006 election.

As an election official working in my precinct, a number of citizens appeared at the polling precinct only to find that they were not registered according to the rolls. Procedure requires officials to phone Voter Services to verify their records. In many cases, Voter Services noted that they were not registered. This was an occurrence was common throughout the county, not just the precinct. The voter at that time can vote, via provisional ballot, if they do so choose. However, the provisional ballot will only be validated if Voter services can verify the voter’s registration. So for most cases of these voters, where the voter followed the rules correctly and assumed that the voting registration or change of address process was handled, their votes were not counted for the 2006 election. According to Voter Services, they couldn’t vote, either with a provisional ballot, because they do not appear on the registration rolls regardless whether or not they have a receipt from PennDot.

How can a voter tell the difference?
Answer: they can’t. To the voter, Voter Services and PennDot appear to be the same; they appear as a single, large government bureaucracy. And because of the technical problems between technical communication between each bureaucracy and the education of the voting community, citizens are being systematically disenfranchised from voting.

For all of the first-time voters coming out for this 2008 Presidential primary, it’s time to take another hard look at Motor Voter law. Bureaucracy shouldn’t get in the way of Democracy and Voters shouldn’t be penalized for following directions.

Posted by john trevisani at April 16, 2008 10:11 AM
Comment #250686

John trevisani said:

The voter sees this process as a process not a convenience.

I don’t see this as a process and Im a voter. What are you trying to say? Im stupid? That I cling to convenience?? What are you better than me, you elitist? How dare you try to inform me. Who are you to say you know whats best about this process. That is for me to decide!!!

Ok..that aside, informative post, I hope it clears things up for the voters in your state.

Posted by: Jason Ziegler at April 16, 2008 10:39 AM
Comment #250689

John, it definetly sounds messed up. Is there a system in place for voters to check their status before election day?

Posted by: kctim at April 16, 2008 10:58 AM
Comment #250691


Is there a system in place for voters to check their status before election day?

Not really; it’s all screwed up. It’s the set and forget thing. People go to the DMV to renew their license, get their picture taken, etc… and fill out a form to register to vote. The expectation is that the individual county will process the voter registration or change of address and send out the new voter registration card in the mail. When the voter shows up to vote, they then find out that they are not on the rolls.

The local precinct will have a list of registered voters and a separate list of late registrants. If the voter isn’t on any of those lists, the voter will be offered a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots aren’t counted the same way as regular and the vast majority of provisional ballots are thrown out.

Posted by: john trevisani at April 16, 2008 11:10 AM
Comment #250695

Seems that, in all of the jockeying over partisan politics in the Keystone State, both parties have forgotten to keep their eye on the most crucial ball of all- their being beholden to the voter.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at April 16, 2008 11:25 AM
Comment #250706

I don’t consider people who opt not to register to vote to be ‘disenfranchised’. They just don’t bother. The DMV does not need to save us from ourselves.

Posted by: Schwamp at April 16, 2008 1:03 PM
Comment #250727

I dont disagree Schwamp, but wasn’t the bill supposed to allow you to register at the DMV? How are you opting not to register if you are registering?

John, thanks for bring the Motor Voter Act topic up. Its been interesting reading so far.

Posted by: kctim at April 16, 2008 4:11 PM
Comment #250755

When I registered to vote in Illinois, I listed my address on River Rd, the commonly used name for the street where I lived. When I went to vote they did not show any such address, since the real name of the street was Des Plaines River Rd. The election judges who ran the polling place at North school did not want to let me vote. I called the State’s Attorney’s office and they told me to ask to vote by affidavit, and that if I was not allowed to vote, they would send officers to the polling place to enforce my right to vote.

When you go to the polling place, don’t leave without voting. Don’t listen to B.S. about machines not working or any other crap. Call the Board of Elections Commissioners, the States Attorney, or anyone who can help you. You should go to the polling place with the appropriate phone numbers for your location.

Motor Voter worked here when I changed my address, but I have never again voted at a local polling place, in fact I don’t even know where it is. I always vote early at the City Hall and just show them my drivers license. I don’t even have a voter registration card.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 16, 2008 8:33 PM
Comment #251139

People in this country illegally should not be allowed to vote. Period.

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