Some Nonprofits Dedicated to Making it More Difficult for People to Register and Vote

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March 13, 2011; Source: National Journal | Our nation needs people to vote. It's essential to our democratic process. Nonprofits have increasingly been active in helping get voters registered and educated, notably the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network which has been profiled in the pages of Nonprofit Quarterly. But some organizations it seems have quite a different idea about this.

For example, a Texas-based Tea Party organization called "True the Vote" issued a warning about electoral fraud, having found that "precinct judges . . . help people vote." As Eliza Carney of the National Journal says, "One would hate to think of a poll worker helping someone vote." True the Vote and others are so exercised about this that they have planned a national summit in Houston on March 25 to train citizen volunteers to act as poll watchers during the 2012 elections.

Other strategies to combat purported electoral fraud include campaigns to require photo IDs and proof-of-citizenship, to eliminate same-day voter registration, and to limit voting access for students and people with past felony convictions. In Florida, for example, even serving your time doesn't get you the vote, at least not right away. The Board of Executive Clemency in the state decided to mandate a seven-year wait on voting by residents with past felony convictions.

New Hampshire recently considered, and rejected, a law to restrict student voting. These initiatives seem to be exactly contrary to the intent of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The American Legislative Exchange Council is pitching to Republican controlled legislatures a model bill on restricting voting (under the guise of attacking voter fraud). The model legislation was funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. For all the nonprofit conference discussions of the role of 501(c)(3)s in voter registration and education, nonprofit readers of the Nonprofit Quarterly should realize that there is a well-funded nonprofit movement pushing in exactly the opposite direction.—Rick Cohen

  • Brenda Peluso

    Sadly 2 such measures have been introduced to the newly Republican-controled Maine Legislature. Maine is perennially in the top 3 in voter turn out with only 2 cases of voter fraud in recent history. Election Day registration repeal and ID bills are both being considered.

  • James Charles

    To address your bias, starting with your first sentance: “Our nation needs CITIZENS to vote.” (not just any “people”)…

  • KS Dixon

    My two kids in college heard numerous students bragging about voting twice, once by absentee ballot in their home states/localities and once at college. This is hardly the purpose of allowing college students to register! No college student who has not declared permanent residency in the college town and rescinded the right to vote elsewhere should be allowed to vote at school.

  • BWilhm

    To Rick Cohen and The Nonprofit Quarterly: You really need to do a bit more research before implying that groups like True the Vote are a detriment to voters. This organization was active in voter registration and in working at the polls in the 2010 General Election. They identified and documented fraudulent and illegal activities that occurred both in the voter registration process and by election workers at the polls. These documented election irregularities were then turned over to local, state, and federal authorities. Every instance where an illegal vote is cast offsets a legitimate voter’s vote, thereby disenfranchising the legitimate voter. True the Vote’s efforts registered voters and then protected their right to vote at the polls. Assuring voters that their vote will not be stolen serves to increase voter participation not decrease their participation.

  • rick cohen

    Dear All: Thanks for your comments. The Newswire is of course about a National Journal article, which is where the reference to True the Vote comes from. But let’s now look at the facts regarding voting in this nation.

    According to the latest report of the Bureau of the Census on voting (, only 64 percent of voting age CITIZENS voted in the 2008 elections. 131 million voting age people voted in 2008, an increase of 5 million over 2004, but the number of voting age citizens in the U.S. increased by 9 million over the same period, so somehow, 4 million potential voters–legally eligible CITIZENS–didn’t vote. Only 71 percent of voting age CITIZENS were even registered to vote for the 2008 elections, meaning that more than one-fourth of eligible voters aren’t able to vote. Voter registration was higher (72.1 percent) in 2004.

    So I look at the numbers, and I’m distressed. In 2008, 131,144,000 voting age CITIZENS voted; 74,928,000 voting age CITIZENS didn’t, including within that total, 15,167,000 registered voters.

    I really believe in small “d” democracy. I vote every election, even here in DC where many times, at least in primaries and in federal elections, and certainly for our lack of Congressional representation, one might feel that our votes don’t count. I have no room for sympathy for people who abuse the right to vote, such as the multiple voting students referenced by DS Dixon or other people who shouldn’t be voting as referenced by BWilhm. But having served in government in Hudson County, New Jersey, I have also watched as legal, registered voters were prevented from voting and in other places were voters were harassed and intimidated about their voting rights. There’s a big upside in getting nonprofits mobilized to register voters–in a completely nonpartisan manner, by the way, not for partisan purposes–and then getting them to exercise their franchise.

    Thanks again for all of your comments. Much appreciated.

  • George Pillsbury

    Nice piece Rick. We hear about “voter fraud” but enough about the far greater problem of vote denial. 2-3 million citizen eligible voters are denied the opportunity to vote due to a problem with voter registration. This issue alone can readily be fixed by allowing voters to fix the problem at the polls on election day as done in 10 states. Another 2 plus million eligible can’t vote because of differing practices on provisional ballots, lack of early voting options or denying citizens with a felony who’ve served out a sentence the right to vote. Nobody wants voter fraud. Stiff penalties are the best deterrent, so effective that evidence of it is minimal to none. If there’s any problem it’s in vote-by-mail, thought the numbers are still very small. Nonprofits can not only help people register and participate, but support efforts to modernize registration, ensure the franchise and combat vote denial when that appears to be the main purpose behind new laws.