[Image courtesy of seomoz.org]
NPR's Pam Fessler had a fascinating story yesterday about a new effort to identify and flag potential irregularities aimed at reducing the threat of voter fraud. For example, volunteers in Maryland are comparing voter rolls to other information like online obituaries to highlight problems on the voter rolls. So far, they say, more than 75% of the records (5,400 out of 7,000) reviewed contain some irregularity - a figure they have reported to state and local officials.
The program is sponsored and supported by True the Vote, a group based in Houston and affiliated with the Tea Party. The group's leader says her group wants to "help support and stand alongside fellow citizens in other states and encourage a national call for election integrity on all sides of the aisle." Accordingly, True the Vote is supporting similar programs in other states across the nation.
Fessler's story highlights the concerns of civil rights groups about this project's potential for voter suppression - not surprising given the already raw nerves in the field and the high stakes in this year's election.
Still, I think a case can be made that the efforts of these citizen groups is a positive development. Just as opponents of voter ID like the Cost of Freedom Project are beginning to mobilize to get ID for those voters who need it, these individuals and groups are doing something about their concerns about the electoral process.
The end result of their work may irritate election officials - for example, I sincerely doubt that 3 out of 4 records in Maryland really pose a problem that could encourage fraud - but this kind of cross-checking has the potential to be a valuable source of feedback.
In the long term, state and local election offices may have access to more sophisticated tools like those being developed by the Pew Center on the States but in the meantime, it isn't necessarily a bad thing for people who care about election integrity to be doing something more than just worry about it.
It will be interesting to see how many of these projects emerge and, more importantly, if they are able to work cooperatively with election officials across the nation.
Kudos to Pam Fessler for reporting this story ... I'll be following it closely as the year continues.