Washington State Uses New Data to Upgrade Voter Rolls

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[Image courtesy of KOIN]

The State of Washington is one of the first nationwide to use data from a new multi-state program to upgrade voter registration rolls. The Mercer Island Reporter has more details:

The Office of the Secretary of State and Washington’s 39 County Auditors are breaking new ground in the coming days as they begin updating over 53,000 voter registration records and mail voter registration information to more than 140,000 potentially eligible, but unregistered residents.

Updating such a large number of records and conducting focused registration education recently has become possible, thanks to the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC).

ERIC is a non-profit organization that assists states with improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens. It is governed and managed by states that choose to join, and was formed by seven states in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The seven participating states include Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington. More states are expected to join.

“ERIC provides states with a powerful new set of tools that improve the accuracy of voter rolls and expand access to voter registration, achieving both goals more efficiently,” Secretary of State Kim Wyman said.

In particular, ERIC’s matching engine flags records that may be out of date because a voter has died or moved:

Using powerful data comparison software, ERIC provides more comprehensive and accurate information by analyzing voter registration and driver identification information from all of the participating states. It also includes national death data from the Social Security Administration.

How much better is data matching through ERIC? In the first ERIC report on deceased voters the new system identified 947 voters that were previously missed. This is about 25 percent more records than Washington finds through its routine processes.

“This outcome demonstrates that ERIC adds real value,” said Shane Hamlin, deputy director of the Elections Division and chair of the ERIC board. “We’ve used national death data for years, but ERIC found more matches than we did. It sounds cliché, but ERIC is a real game changer.”

The other key aspect of the program is the ability to identify eligible but unregistered voters and give them an opportunity to join the rolls – which also provides an opportunity to spot and correct errors in the record:

The Secretary of State will mail eye-catching and informative postcards containing information on how to register to vote to residents who don’t appear to be registered. The postcards include the eligibility requirements for registering, the web address for online registration and a toll-free number if the recipient wants to request a paper form or has questions about the card.

The Secretary’s office mailed similar postcards last fall. Numerous registered voters received that postcard due to date-of-birth errors or name variations in the individual’s record, and as a result, many errors in individual records were corrected. Improvements to the matching software this year should significantly decrease the number of registered voters who mistakenly receive a postcard.

“This year, we make it clear that if you’re already registered, you received the postcard in error. We want these folks to call us so we can see what the error is, for example a typo in the date of birth, and correct it. This mailing is about increasing the number of eligible people registered to vote, not taking people off the rolls,” said Hamlin.

The experience of Washington and other ERIC states will be an important indicator of how well this new approach addresses the problems of efficiency and accuracy that have long been associated with voter registration. Kudos to them and the team at Pew for making this program a reality – and I look forward to hearing more about other states’ experiences as well.

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