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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report
database.16 The change-of-address database can be accessed through a third-party provider or implemented local to the election office. (If the forwarding request has expired, a query will indicate that the new address is unavailable.) The utility of such a check varies, as some election offices have noted that NCOA information is not sufficiently timely for their purposes.
The NVRA requires election officials to notify the voter if they receive an indication that the voter has moved. In particular, when a change of address is received from the USPS process, the election official must send by forwardable mail a postage pre-paid and pre-addressed return card on which the voter may state his or her current address. If the voter remains within the jurisdiction of the election official and the voter responds to the notice, then the address can be updated based on the new information provided. If the new address is outside the jurisdiction of the election official, the voter is asked to return the card, and the voter registration record is handled accordingly. If the confirmation card is not returned and the voter does not vote in or by the second general federal election that occurs after the date of the notice, he or she may be removed from the VRD.
In addition, a state’s department of motor vehicles and other mandated NVRA agencies (e.g., social service agencies) can be an important source of information regarding changes of address. These other agencies may well have more current address information than do the state DMVs, some of which have lengthened their drivers’ license renewal times to save on costs. One state—Michigan—provides for the automatic updating of voter registration information based on changes received at its DMV, and has found that many changes of address are thus much more easily managed. (The reverse is also true—a change to a Michigan voter’s registration address also automatically changes the voter’s residence address at the DMV.) In general, federal law (NVRA) requires these agencies to provide change-of-address information to election officials unless the voter has specifically indicated that the change of address is not for voting purposes (as might be true for a voter in New York who relocates to Florida only for the winter); however, implementation of this requirement is uneven across the United States.
Voters who submit change-of-address notifications to election officials (e.g., by moving into a new community and checking the appropriate box on a voter registration form indicating a new address for the same voter) pose little or no computational problem for election officials. However, an automated check of a VRD against a USPS change-of-address database is not a straightforward task, because these databases do not include important identifiers such as date of birth or any part of the SSN. Note that when performing computer-based matching using name and address fields, address standardization is virtually mandatory. Address standardization can be accomplished using commercially available software or services that automatically process raw voter-provided addresses. Even so, a comparison based on standardized address fields is likely to be less accurate than one based on identification fields. (For example, a given change-of-address notification from the post office may or may not be associated with all voters in a household.)
An additional complication is that a change of mailing address (the primary purpose of the USPS NCOA database) does not necessarily reflect a change in residence or domicile (which determines eligibility to vote in a given electoral jurisdiction). Military personnel, who constitute the majority of UOCAVA voters,17 in particular often prefer to keep their voter registrations at a main base or state of origin, and upon assignment to another location will file a change of address with postal authorities, even if it is not in fact a change of residence or domicile for voting purposes. Thus, reliance on USPS change-of-address databases as a proxy for changes of domicile for voting purposes may contribute to the disenfranchisement of mobile individuals who do not change domicile.
For more information on the NCOA database and address change services provided by the U.S. Postal Service, see http://www.usps.com/ncsc/addressservices/moveupdate/changeaddress.htm. Commercial software costing in the range of $50,000 is available that checks addresses and formats them so that they can be checked against the NCOA (this cost does not include the cost of comparison to the NCOA database). A less expensive option available to states is to contract with a vendor licensed by the USPS, which can cost several thousand dollars per year to check the entire state database.
UOCAVA voters are uniformed and overseas citizens who cast absentee ballots (UOCAVA is the acronym for the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act).