Legislation aimed at preventing millions of duplicate voter registrations nationwide

Jun 16, 2013

Every citizen of America has the right to vote, but no citizen has the right to vote twice in the same election. Those obvious truths should be easy enough to implement in our election law, but in politics nothing is ever easy.

Last week (June 4), the House Administration Committee, on which I serve as chairman, heard testimony on my proposal to improve the process by which states maintain voter registration rolls. This bill would amend the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), commonly known as the “motor voter law,” and would require state motor vehicle agencies accepting new license applications from former residents of other states to ask whether applicants wished to also transfer their voter registrations. If an applicant replies in the affirmative, that agency would then be required to notify the previous state of residence and the old registration would be canceled. Seems like common sense, but current law actually forbids the former state from canceling the old registration for as many as four years.

Today, such applicants are free to register in their new state while also maintaining the old registration. As a result, there are multiple instances across the U.S. in which jurisdictions have more registered voters on their books than they have adults eligible to vote living within their boundaries. Most of the time, those circumstances are merely absurd, however, they provide the unscrupulous with an opportunity to game our elections. In Maryland, a 2012 candidate for congress was forced to drop out after it was revealed she had voted in Maryland and Florida in the same election on two separate occasions.

Regardless of how often duplicate registrants vote more than once, the presence of duplicate and fraudulent registrations on our voter rolls undermines public confidence in our democracy and dilutes the votes of those cast legally. Duplicate registrations also force elections officials, who are required under the motor voter law to make reasonable efforts to remove registrations from the rolls when a voter has died or changed residence, into an impossible position.

In Michigan, a 2008 program to purge registrations for those who applied for drivers licenses in other states was blocked by a federal lawsuit on the grounds the state had not determined those applicants also intended to change their residence for purposes of voting. In order to comply with the court’s legal interpretation of NVRA, while attempting to remove outdated registrations from the rolls, state officials must engage in a costly and inefficient effort to individually contact voters who are suspected of having re-located.

Michigan State Elections Director Christopher Thomas testified in support of my proposal (H.R. 2115, The Voter Registration Efficiency Act), and it is endorsed by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

Providing each individual American citizen the opportunity to vote — in one place at a time — is the right of every citizen. It should also be the law of the land.