A recent Pew Research Center report ("Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient," February 2012) exposes systemic inefficiencies and errors in the process by which we elect those who govern us. It confirms shocking facts: 51 million or more eligible U.S. citizens, over 24 percent of the eligible population, are not registered to vote. The Pew study charges that the voter registration process is riddled with clerical and human errors.
What it does not reveal is any evidence of voter fraud. Voters die, they move across precinct and state lines, they serve in our armed forces overseas, they lose their homes due to foreclosures, and their voter registration may not always be accurate, but there is no credible evidence that they are stealing other citizens' votes.
The Pew study shows that clerical errors (committed by volunteers who register voters but also election commission officials and even DMV voter registration offices) are of urgent concern. It recommends an overhaul of the system to improve records, streamline processes and save money.
One recommendation, establishing new ways voters can register online, would make the process easier and less susceptible to error for many in our state.
For many, but not all. Many voters in our state would not be helped by enhanced technology. According to the last Census, of those who voted in our state in November 2010, 0 percent of African-American voters in South Carolina registered via the Internet or online, compared with 31,149 or nearly 2 percent of white voters. Minority voters in South Carolina registered through community voter registration drives at twice the rate of white voters.
Voter registration drives help citizens who face the biggest barriers to voting: the elderly, the disabled, those who move frequently, lower-income voters and minority communities, all of whom may lack access to a county voter registration office in South Carolina. Many of these voters are also less likely to be able to register online.
Instead of analyzing and remedying the real problems plaguing our elections system, our state legislators are compounding them with voter suppression measures. Given the importance of community voter registration drives in South Carolina, our legislators should not be debating H.4549, which would impose fines and burdensome bureaucratic requirements on volunteers who help people register. This bill would stop organizations like the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and faith groups from assisting people to register.
In 2008, South Carolina was an abysmal 42nd in the nation in voter turnout. Instead of encouraging participation in our democracy, our legislators are wasting time erecting barriers and wasting scarce resources on nonexistent problems. To accommodate our mobile population and working people, we need election-day registration, weeks of early voting, enhanced training of poll workers, and proper audits of our electronic voting machines that assure voters that their ballots are counted properly.
When it passed the National Voter Registration Act, Congress deemed it a national priority to make it convenient for voters to register. The legislation recently passed and currently being debated in our state represents a concerted effort to undermine that resolve.