Perhaps more disturbingly, simply because it affects voters in every state, the Social Security Administration announced in September that it plans to shut down its databases for maintenance from October 11 through October 13. This could have an immensely negative impact on new-voter registration. Wendy Weiser, who directs the Brennan Center’s work on voting rights and elections, explains why:
A 2002 federal law, the Help America Vote Act, requires all states to “coordinate” their voter registration databases with the Social Security database (and state motor vehicle databases) for the purpose of processing new voter registration forms. For the millions of voters who do not have current driver’s licenses and register using the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, state election officials are required to try to match their voter registration information against Social Security records. But if the Social Security database is down—as it will be for four days—they won’t be able to do that. Across the country, the processing of these voter registration forms will grind to a halt for four days.
The SSA shutdown, Weiser continues, would affect “new voters, as well as people who re-register because they have moved, who do not have state-issued driver’s licenses or non-driver’s IDs.” And those citizens are disproportionately older, African-American, and low-income.
Which is, quite literally, outrageous. Imagine all the effort expended and all the drama upended, from all sides, over the 2008 presidential contest—and all the metaphorical blood, and all the literal sweat and tears—that have gone into this campaign. And imagine that everything that has taken place so far, and everything that will take place over the next month, has happened in the service of an Election Day that isn’t fundamentally fair. The fact that we can imagine that happening—since, of course, it’s happened before—makes it no less appalling.
So where’s the comprehensive reporting on the voter-fraud controversies? On any day, but specifically today? Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein decried the SSA shutdown, which earned a mention in Roll Call. CBS Evening News, last week, offered a brief segment on the Brennan report. The American Prospect ran a Web-only Q&A with that report’s author, Myrna Perez. Good stuff, all of it.
But, with the exception of CBS, those are niche outlets. (How often do you hear average voters discussing the latest Roll Call article?) Will their stories reach the older and lower-income voters—the citizens whose votes are most in jeopardy when it comes to attempts at voter fraud? Likely not. Which makes it all the more important for mainstream, high-readership outlets—say, The Washington Post, USA Today, and NPR, just to name a random sampling—to inform their audiences about how to ensure that their votes will count. That would be service journalism, sure. But in the best sense—since it would have the rare attribute of providing a service that voters actually—urgently—need.