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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Tuesday, August 1
 
Order in Washington Registration Case
There was a major development today regarding the statewide registration databases mandated by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA"). A federal district judge issued this preliminary injunction order against a Washington state law which required that voters' names be "matched" against Social Security or driver's license records before they could be registered to vote. The case was brought on behalf of a coalition of voting rights groups by the Brennan Center for Justice, whose press release on the decision may be found here.

The order, from U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez, finds two separate problems with Washington's law. First, the court concludes that it probably conflicts with HAVA's section 303 (42 USC 15483), which doesn't require the matching of voter's information against Social Security and driver's license databases in order for them to be registered (though it does allow voters to be exempted from the requirement of showing ID at the polls if such matching is done). Second, the court finds that the Washington law likely violates a seldom-used provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1870 (42 USC 1971), which prohibits states from denying the vote based on an "error or omission on any record or paper" relating to registration. The court found it unneccessary to reach the constitutional issues that plaintiffs raised.

This is a significant decision. Every state is supposed to have a statewide registration database in place this year by virtue of HAVA. While these databases haven't generated nearly as much media attention as voting machines, they're probably more significant in terms of their overall impact on participation. As far as I'm aware, this is the first decision to hold that any state's database matching violates HAVA. The court's reliance on section 1971 is equally significant. We may see this law being used by other voting rights plaintiffs, as a way of challenging restrictive registration rules or other barriers to voting.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University