Louisianians have about a week left to register to vote in the November election, and with a heated U.S. Senate race having gained national attention, several third-party groups are working to get more people on the state’s voter rolls.
Outside voter registration efforts locally have included in-person voter drives, as well as official-looking prefilled registration forms that have caused some confusion in years past.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said his office has fielded some complaints already, though not as many as it did during the 2012 presidential race. “I would like to say that it’s because we tried to be more proactive this year,” Schedler said.
Oct. 6 is the last day to register to vote in the November election, when voters will choose Democrat U.S. Sen Mary Landrieu or one of her Republican opponents, who include Baton Rouge’s U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, of the 6th Congressional District, and tea party-backed Rob Maness, of Madisonville. The race has been identified nationally as one that could ultimately determine whether Democrats maintain control of the U.S. Senate.
More than 90,000 Louisiana residents have sent registration documents to local registrars’ offices across the state since Aug. 1, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That includes 28,000 valid new voter forms. Another 52,000 were changes to existing voter records, while 10,000 were either invalid or duplicate registrations.
In anticipation of intense outside interest in Louisiana’s elections, Schedler said his office reached out to groups that it knew would be working to register voters in Louisiana. He said the interaction has been positive with most groups.
“They keep in constant contact with us,” he said.
But at least one questionable form made it to a Baton Rouge home this month.
Jerry Arbour, who is involved in Republican politics on the local and state level, shared with The Advocate a form his son and daughter-in-law received at their home that was completed with the name “Linda Diane Arbour.” They don’t know anyone by that name or how the nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based Voter Participation Center would have come up with it, though the form appears to indicate that someone with that name previously was registered to vote in Michigan.
“It just raises questions in your mind,” Jerry Arbour said.
He said he immediately worried about the potential for voter fraud, though Louisiana requires photo identification at the polls.
“Maybe some people would be tempted to sign it and send it in and see what happens,” Arbour said.
Page Gardner, president of the Voter Participation Center, said her organization strives to make sure its information is accurate. It purchases address lists and compares them with the state’s voter rolls to single out potential voters who aren’t yet registered.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect list,” she said, but she added that the group’s “rate of mailing correctly is very high.”
The Voter Participation Center is just one of several groups aiming to register voters here in Louisiana, Schedler said.
Americans for Prosperity and the Voter Registration Project also are canvassing cities across the state.
The News & Observer, of Raleigh, N.C., reported this month that Americans for Prosperity had sent out scores of mistake-riddled forms in that state, prompting hundreds of complaints to the state Board of Elections.
Like others, VPC’s forms come in the mail filled out with the prospective voter’s name and address, with instructions to fill in the rest of the information, sign the form and return it to the local registrar.
“We try to reach out and make the act of registering convenient for people,” Gardner said.
She said the group sent out 190,000 of the forms this month.
Its efforts generally target minorities, unmarried women and people who are younger than 29.
“We are particularly interested in those populations that are historically underrepresented,” Gardner said. “We want the electorate to be representative of the population as a whole, and we want more people active in our democracy.”
The Voter Participation Center is no stranger to criticism over faulty forms. The group made headlines in 2012 when it mailed prefilled voter registration documents in the names of pets and dead people, as well as people who were not eligible to register.
Gardner said the group has made efforts to improve its lists since then.
“We’ve looked at that year after year,” she said. “We are very proud of our work.”
Schedler said he wouldn’t go that far and that he supports efforts to increase voter participation, though he said Louisiana’s bigger issue is getting registered voters to go to the polls. About 86 percent of eligible Louisiana residents already are registered to vote, he said, including high rates for both African-American and white women, in particular.
“Louisiana doesn’t have a trove of unregistered voters out there to reach,” Schedler said. “The universe of unregistered voters is getting thinner and thinner.”
He said he would like for state lawmakers to pass legislation requiring outside groups to register with his office before they can make large-scale voter registration pushes in Louisiana.
“Right now, we have no clue who is out there,” he said.
Schedler said one of his concerns is that people don’t know what they are getting with an outside registrant. There’s no guarantee an in-person registration form will make it to the registrar’s office in time, and there’s no guarantee that a third-party entity won’t gather information in some way, he said.
He said the state has tried to simplify the process. Prospective voters can even register online or check their registration through the secretary of state’s website at GeauxVote.com.
“You can do it all through the official way,” Schedler said. “You don’t have to rely on these groups.”