Support for Iowa Secretary of State's Decisions on Provisional Ballots and Voter Registration Applications

Release Date: 
October 26, 2004

New York, NY — Today Demos, a national, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting democracy, voiced its strong support for Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver's recent decisions regarding how to handle provisional ballots and voter registration applications.

Miles Rapoport, President of Demos, said, "Secretary Culver is right on the facts and right on the law. He is following the letter and spirit of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which Congress enacted to make it easier for people to register, vote, and have their votes counted. All Americans who believe in participatory democracy should be proud of Secretary Culver's decisions to ensure that duly eligible Iowans are able to vote next Tuesday."

The handling of provisional ballots cast in the correct county but the wrong polling place is one source of disagreement in Iowa. Just last week, Demos issued a report that reviewed how all fifty states and the District of Columbia will be handling provisional ballots on November 2nd.

The report — "Placebo Ballots: Will 'Fail-Safe' Voting Fail?" — showed that Iowa will be one of thirteen states that count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. As Iowa's Attorney General Tom Miller observed in his opinion letter on this issue, HAVA requires an individual to declare he or she is "registered in the jurisdiction in which the individual desires to vote" — and, in Iowa, the county is the relevant jurisdiction.

"There will be millions of new voters going to the polls on Tuesday. It's inevitable that some may be confused about which polling place to go to, but that is no excuse to rob people of their right to vote," Rapoport said. "Iowa and a dozen other states have it right — votes cast in the correct county should be counted. Any state that fails to accept such ballots will create tremendous Election Day confusion, since they will likely send thousands of voters off on scavenger hunts for their polling places — or, more likely, home."

The second contentious issue in Iowa relates to the handling of voter registration applications on which an applicant has not checked off a box affirming citizenship. This is a ballot barrier that has been declared immaterial by the state Attorney General because Iowa voter applications also include a voter's signed affirmation of his or her citizenship. In a second advisory opinion to Secretary Culver, the Attorney General noted that failure to accept the forms would violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which mandates:

"No person acting under color of law shall...deny the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material."

"Every Iowan signs an affirmation of his or her citizenship when they register to vote," said Rapoport. "To reject a person's voter application because they forgot to check a box indicating the same thing would be wrong. That's why the states of Ohio and Washington have made precisely the same decision as Secretary Culver. Those criticizing his decision are seeking to disenfranchise voters in a manner that violates their fundamental civil rights.

"If the election of 2000 taught us anything, it's that every vote matters. Secretary Culver clearly understands that, and instead of being sued and vilified, he should be praised for trying to fulfill his duty to help eligible voters cast votes that will count."

For more information, or to read the Demos Election Wire, please visit www.demos-usa.org

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