Louisiana residents have several options for registering to vote. They can fill out a form on the secretary of state’s website; sign up when they get their driver’s licenses or renew their car tags; mail in registration cards; or sign up in person at local libraries, schools and public assistance agencies, among other outlets.
But a task force that reviewed the state elections procedures has raised some concern over another method: third-party groups that hold mass voter registration drives.
Outside voter registration efforts often take the form of door-to-door, in-person sweeps. Some outside groups also have been known to send official-looking pre-filled registration forms that have caused some confusion in Louisiana in years past.
Such groups, which include political parties as well as lesser-known entities, don’t have to register with the Secretary of State’s Office, so it’s unclear how many of them are operating during any given election cycle. They also are not required to disclose information about themselves to the people they sign up to vote.
During a recent hearing at the Capitol, representatives from the Secretary of State’s Office outlined some of the issues that have arisen out of the arrangement.
Jim McKenzie, security director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the office has investigated cases where information — such as party affiliation — has been altered after the fact.
In at least two cases during the most recent election cycle, voter registration cards collected by outside groups weren’t turned in before the 30-day deadline, he said.
“That’s one of the things we are really concerned about is the education of these people,” he said.
On top of that, potential voters are providing sensitive information to groups, including their Social Security numbers and mothers’ maiden names.
Joyce Corrington, president of the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, said she worries about groups that pay canvassers for each person they sign up to vote.
“Those organizations should be required to be responsible for who they give these forms to,” she said.
She said in one case, a local registrar’s office had a bunch of voter registration cards “shoved under the door.”
“They didn’t know who did it,” she said.
It’s unclear what action, if any, state lawmakers will take to address the issue during the upcoming legislative session.
With the U.S. presidential race and an open U.S. Senate race set to take place in Louisiana this fall, third-party groups will likely ramp up efforts again as the election dates approach. Louisiana residents have until 30 days before an election to sign up to vote. The U.S. Senate primary and the presidential election take place Nov. 8.
About 20 states across the country require that outside groups register with the Secretary of State’s Office before mass collections.
“Surprisingly, many have mandatory registration, mandatory training,” said Commissioner of Elections Angie Rogers, adding that they also require volunteers to provide information to people whose registrations they collect. “It would help with all the phone calls that we get from voters who are very confused.”
Some on the task force worried that tighter restrictions would discourage voter registration drives or send a bad message about the state’s commitment to voter registration.
“I would just hope that in the short term, there be proactive disseminating more information,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans. “The ideal way to get registered is to go to your registrar’s office or do it online.”
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said the goal is always to register more voters. Louisiana’s voter registration rate is about 84 percent.
“Increasing civic participation is a goal that many share across the state, and my office is committed to assisting in voter registration drives so that they are successful in our state,” he said.
But he said he hopes that Louisiana residents will be smart and vigilant when it comes to registering to vote.
“If you think something doesn’t look or feel right, by all means do not share your personal identifying information such as your Social Security number, date of birth or your mother’s maiden name,” he said. “Louisiana has a wonderful online voter portal that protects your information from potential fraud and should be used when at all possible. Be cautious, but don’t miss an opportunity to participate.”