GOP Backs Off Montana Voter Challenges

The Montana Republican Party, which just last week notified local election officials in a handful largely Democratic counties that it intended to challenge the registrations of nearly 6,000 voters, has withdrawn that action.

According to press reports from the big sky state, the Montana Republican Party announced on Tuesday it would no longer pursue the challenges, which potentially would have forced targeted individuals to produce additional documentation of their legal address when voting.

The Montana GOP had selected individuals who were likely Democratic voters in university towns and on Native American reservations, local political analysts said. Reaction from election officials and editorial writers was uniformly negative, saying the threatened challenges were a ruse to discourage likely Democrats from voting.

Versions of this tactic are playing out across the country as GOP officials, either party leaders or office holders, are seeking to verify the validity of new voter registrations by saying they must match information for these same individuals in other government databases, such drivers' licenses or Social Security numbers. These demands come against a backdrop of reports saying Democrats have been more successful than Republicans in registering new voters in 2008.

Most notably, in Wisconsin, the Attorney General, a Republican, is pushing his state's election officials to screen registrations with the Social Security database. This past Monday, the Social Security Administration issued a press release asking six states -- Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio -- to "review their procedures" to ensure voters were not mistakenly removed from voter rolls before the November election.

The problem with this name matching standard is two-fold: some government databases, notably Social Security records, are known to have errors -- which could result in legal voter registrations being rejected through no fault of the voter. Second, data-entry errors, such as typos involving people's names, can also lead to rejected voter registrations. Here, too, voters often have little recourse to correct mistakes by public agencies or government contractors who prepare and manage these databases.

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