When a reporter asked Gov. Charlie Crist about the controversial "no match-no vote" law that Secretary of State Kurt Browning started enforcing mere weeks before the registration deadline, Crist responded, "You have to be who you are, in order to vote . . . . I don't want election fraud. I want people who are voting to be who they purport to be."
Every Floridian should wholeheartedly agree. The problem is the law doesn't do what the governor says it does.
The law doesn't guarantee voters are who they say they are. It actually prevents ballots from being counted even after voters produce irrefutable proof of identity — like military identification or U.S. passports. Provisional ballots will also be thrown out if voters don't give officials a copy of their driver's license within two days after the election — even though they already showed their license at the polls.
That's because the law isn't about verifying identity, it's about verifying a record-keeping number — either your driver's license number or four digits of your Social Security number. If the state doesn't verify your number, your vote won't count — even though you verified your identity by showing photo identification at the polls.
Here's how it happens. When an applicant registers to vote, she gives her Florida driver's license number. Nondrivers provide the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. The state tries to verify those numbers by comparing voter applications with records in the motor vehicle or Social Security database. If the data matches, the voter is registered.
If the state doesn't find a "match," the applicant isn't registered. That's a problem, because matches fail all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with voters being who they say they are, like typographical errors made when applications are processed, or women registering in their married names when the Social Security database lists their maiden names. The Social Security Administration says that matching voter data with its database fails 46.2 percent of the time — about the same odds as flipping a coin.
These problems prevent matches and stop voters from being registered. And while unmatched voters may get provisional ballots, those provisional ballots often won't be counted, because showing a reliable photo ID at the polls isn't enough.
Provisional ballots will count only if voters provide officials with a copy of their driver's license or Social Security card within two days after the election. Even military ID and U.S. passports aren't accepted. So, after casting a provisional ballot, if a voter doesn't have her original Social Security card, can't access a fax machine to submit it, can't drive to the county election offices to drop it off, or doesn't receive clear instructions from poll workers on any of the above, the provisional ballot won't count.
As a result, even though — in the governor's words — the voter proved she is who she purports to be by showing up at the polls with ID, a failed "match" by the state spawns a tailspin that ends with an eligible voter not being able to cast a vote that counts.
Fortunately, there's a simple solution: If a voter shows her driver's license at the polls, count the vote. If a voter verifies that she is who she says she is by showing a passport or military ID at the polls, count the vote — don't throw out the vote because the voter can't fax in a copy of her Social Security card the day after the election.
When a federal court struck down the original version of the law in December, the measure was blocking 16,000 voters from the registration rolls. In the month between the time the secretary of state started enforcing this policy and the registration deadline, hundreds of thousands of voters will register. Tens of thousands of them will be at great risk of having their ballots go uncounted.
These voters' provisional ballots may well be the hanging chad of 2008.
Adam Skaggs is counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and an attorney for the voting rights organizations challenging Florida's "no match-no vote'' law.