Lawyers Democracy Fund's board member Joanne Young published an op-ed today cataloguing the many problems with California's automatic, or mandatory, voter registration system, which is especially relevant as the House debates and votes on H.R. 1 this week. H.R. 1 would require all states to adopt automatic voter registration (AVR) according to the bill's requirements, regardless of each state's existing laws. It would also require a massive data dump from various government databases in the states' voter registration systems, which would introduce errors in the voter registration databases that would only be exacerbated by the new required AVR systems.
Ms. Young describes how AVR in California has burdened voters and election officials and introduced many errors into the voter rolls since the program started in April 2018, after nearly three years of preparation:
By May, a “software error” had affected 77,000 registration records for voters who were already registered, and for many it generated duplicate records. The new system also created confusion for many people at the DMV by posing voter registration questions to everyone automatically—even those who weren’t ready to register or were already registered.
The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that registration errors were being resolved “one at a time in each county’s elections office.” Kammi Foote, Inyo County registrar of voters, said her office did not “have the time to be researching this, but we have to.” . . .
In September, the DMV admitted to having incorrectly registered or entered errors into 23,000 voter registration records. These errors included incorrect party affiliation, language preference, and requests to vote by mail.
Around 4,600 of the errors were people who were registered but who did not want to register to vote and did not complete the required voter registration affidavit. DMV officials blamed an “administrative processing error” caused by DMV workers who did not fully clear their screens before serving the next customer. . . .
In October, the DMV admitted that an additional 1,500 people who should not have been registered to vote were registered—including noncitizens. The DMV blamed this on employees making data entry errors. . . .
On the whole, more than 100,000 errors were found to have been created by the automatic voter registration system in the span of just a few months, creating headaches for everyone—for voters who were already registered, for ineligible persons who did not wish to register, and for local election officials.
As other states and the Congress consider whether to implement automatic voter registration, California’s experience presents a cautionary tale for what can happen when voter registration is shifted away from election officials, who are the experts in this area, to government bureaucrats, who have other responsibilities. . . .
Any state or national effort to consider automatic voter registration should consider the problems California is experiencing before trying to attempt what is an unneeded, very expensive “reform.”