How Policy Changes Make Voter Registration Less Secure

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Ken Block is out with some new data related to Rhode Island’s voter rolls, and he’s saying that the state is violating federal regulations covering voter registration, regarding which the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is demanding an independent investigation..  Kathy Gregg summarizes for the Providence Journal:

Block alleges that the Rhode Island election officials have adopted rules that are in conflict with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and that may help explain why the state’s voter files do not have the most basic “personally identifying information” — a driver’s license or Social Security number — for more than 30 percent of the voters who took part in Rhode Island’s 2016 general election.

By his count, that includes “22,000-plus″ people who registered for the first time since the Help America Vote Act took effect. …

He traces this selective verification to a rule change “only two months ahead of the 2008 General Election,” that was followed by “an unprecedented explosion of voters who registered to vote without (personally identifying information) in the two months before the 2008 elections.”

If I’m following Block’s argument correctly, the subtle way in which the Rhode Island Board of Election’s regulations changed is certainly, let’s just say, suspicious.  Here’s the relevant language from the HAVA, which requires all registered voters to have verified a driver’s license or Social Security Number, with a narrow exception:

If an applicant for voter registration for an election for Federal office has not been issued a current and valid driver’s license or a social security number, the State shall assign the applicant a number which will serve to identify the applicant for voter registration purposes.

Note the “has not been issued” phrase.  That is, lacking access to the information is not an excuse; only in narrow circumstances in which an eligible voter has not been issued such identification can he or she still register to vote.

Here’s how the original 2003 regulation from the Board of Elections rendered that requirement:

An applicant who does not have a Rhode Island driver’s license or social security number shall place a check mark in the box provided indicating that he/she does not have a RI driver’s license or social security number.

The language is still a little weaker than “has never been issued,” but the context makes “have” more or less synonymous with “has been issued,” and the check box requires an affirmative statement that could open one to fraud allegations.  Here’s what the Board of Elections changed that to in the months before the 2008 election:

If the applicant does not have a RI drivers license number, RI State ID number or a Social Security Number, they shall provide one of the following…

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The regulation lists the alternative forms of identification that the state already accepted (for the most part) in order to receive an alternative identification number.  Strictly speaking, that use of the phrase “does not have” isn’t weaker than the 2003 regulation, but the current voter registration form proves that the meaning had indeed changed.  The relevant box on the form has spaces for a license number or Social Security, but it says, “If you do not enter either number, see instructions for Box 3.”  And the key language in the instructions is:

If you are registering to vote for the first time in Rhode Island by mail or if someone else turns this form in for you, it is REQUIRED that you provide your driver’s license number or state ID number issued by the RI Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If you do not have either, you must provide the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number. If you do not provide the above information or it cannot be verified, you will be required to provide identification to an election official before voting.

This isn’t even ambiguous.  According to the instructions, a registrant can use the alternative forms of ID for any reason, which could potentially have been the case with more than 22,000 Rhode Island voters.  For some context, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo won her election by fewer than 15,000 votes, and the town-by-town percentages of voters without the required information were surely enough to exceed the vote margins for all variety of races, certainly including Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello of Cranston.

Note, also, the increase in voter registrations immediately after the language change.  The number of registered voters between the presidential primary in March and the primary in September of that year increased by a single voter, but 36,215 registered to vote after the September primary.  From the 2004 to the 2008 general election, the number of registered voters in Rhode Island actually went down (as a shrinking population would suggest).  From 2008 to 2012, however, it was up by 24,002, and then again from 2012 to 2016, it was up 57,384.  Despite a stagnant-at-best population.

Dismissing concerns about voter fraud has become a regular game of political insiders and the Left, but as the Center suggests, confidence in our electoral system is too important not to have an investigation.

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