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Restore trust in voter rolls

Charges of fraud and suppression undermine confidence in voter registration.

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Since the "hanging chad" debacle of 2000, states have worked hard to restore trust in Election Day by updating voting machines. Slowly, but surely, they're making progress. But now, charges of "fraud" and "suppression" in voter registration are kicking up a cloud of controversy – and again endangering voter confidence.

As with financial markets, so with the voting process, the integrity of the system is critical to making it work. Places such as Florida's Palm Beach County may be on their third set of machines in three elections, but at least they're going at their equipment problems until they get it right.

Several high-profile cases this campaign season, though, show that the country also needs to get it right with people.

Republicans are all over an activist group called ACORN, some of whose workers have recorded thousands of fraudulent names during a massive voter registration drive. Bogus ACORN lists turned up in registrar offices in about a dozen states. The FBI is reportedly investigating.

Democrats have their own complaints. In battleground states such as Ohio and Minnesota, they accuse Republicans of voter suppression for questioning names of newly registered voters whose identifying information doesn't match what's in state databases.

As part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Congress required states to centralize voter lists, which allows voters to check their registration and polling places online. If there's a no-match of new voters with, say, Social Security or driver's license records, states must notify these voters and give them a chance to prove eligibility – but this isn't always carried out.

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