Settlement Reached to Protect Maryland Voter Applicants from Record Matching Errors

WASHINGTON — Advancement Project and Project Vote reached a settlement agreement with the Maryland State Board of Elections to protect the voting rights of voter registration applicants who have been classified as “pending” because their identification number did not produce an exact match against the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration or Social Security Administration database.

Nationwide statistics have shown that matching results in a high percentage of legitimate applications being denied through no fault of the applicants. If Maryland did not discontinue its practice of placing applicants whose personal ID number cannot be verified on pending status rather than registering such applicants, it would have lead to the inevitable and unlawful disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible voters throughout the state.

“Maryland was relying on computers to accurately identify eligible voters in a way that did not account for human error,” said Elizabeth Westfall, senior attorney, Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, “A disenfranchisement by typo rule would have mistakenly rejected too many registration applications, too close to the election. We are pleased that state has agreed to take immediate action to rectify this problem.”

The state has agreed to implement the following:

1. Mail revised notices to unmatched applicants that advise them of their right to vote by provisional ballot on Election Day upon presentation of their identification to an election judge at the polls;

2. Amend the Maryland State Board of Elections’ website to notify unmatched applicants of their right to vote by provisional ballot on Election Day upon presentation of their identification to an election judge at the polls;

3. Establish a protocol for manually reviewing unsuccessful matches to determine whether a clerical, typographical or other administrative error is the source of the non-match;

4. Remind election judges of the instructions, including but not limited to last minute instructions, as to the treatment of unmatched applicants on Election Day;

5. Determine the distribution of pending applicants by precinct, and where pending applicants are concentrated, ensure an adequate supply of provisional ballots and supplemental instructions and training to poll workers and election judges concerning the treatment of unmatched applicants; and

6. Issue written public service announcements to unmatched applicants that they should bring a copy of their identification with them to the polls on Election Day.

"We expect this settlement to protect thousands of eligible Maryland voters whose vote might not have counted through no fault of their own,” said Michael Slater, director of Project Vote's election administration program.

Maryland’s matching requirements have been causing problems for thousands of eligible voters. For example, a woman’s married name might not match against an outdated database containing her maiden name. Moreover, common data entry errors cause matches to fail. According to court documents in a recent Washington case, one woman was barred from the rolls when her birthday was mistakenly entered into the system as “1976” instead of “1975”. A federal court in Washington State recently blocked enforcement of a Washington state statute that required the rejection of voter registration applications if the applicant’s ID number could not be verified.

In exchange for the state’s adoption of the six corrective measures, the groups agreed not to bring litigation against Maryland’s State Board of Election or any of its members on or before November 7, 2006 related to Maryland’s treatment of unmatched applicants. Additionally, all parties agreed that, at a mutually convenient time after the general election on November 7, they will meet to discuss possible amendments to Maryland’s regulations and procedure related to unmatched applicants.

Source: Advancement Project and Project Vote

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