Who Is Left Out? The Process of Validating Voter Registration Applications

Date01 November 2020
Published date01 November 2020
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(6) 682 –686
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X20914613
Prospective voters face roadblocks that often prevent them
from registering to vote and consequently voting on Election
Day. First, they change residences often, making it difficult
to stay up to date with their voter registration (McDonald,
2008). Second, state residency or voter identification
requirements may also deter them from registering to vote
(Ansolabehere et al., 2012). Third, most states cap age
eligibility for registration to 18 years, while in other states
16- and 17-year olds can preregister to vote. Fourth, states
impose voter registration deadlines, where eligible voters
can register as early as 30 days before an election and as late
as on Election Day. The “the cost of voting” is higher in
states with restrictive deadlines, no youth preregistration,
and strict voter identification requirements, resulting in low
rates of voter participation (Li et al. 2018).
Researchers of voter registration note that gaps in imple-
menting federal election laws remain, particularly when
they involve transactions between local motor vehicle
offices, public agencies, third party groups, and election
officials (Hess & Novakowski, 2008; Hess et al., 2016;
Merivaki & Smith, 2019; Naifeh, 2015). Scholars also note
implementation gaps insofar as registering eligible youth to
vote, particularly 16- and 17-year olds (McDonald &
Thornburg, 2010). Such gaps exist when eligible to register
citizens are not offered the option to register to vote. In that
case, election officials will receive zero or few voter regis-
tration applications.
Gaps can also exist due to complications in the voter reg-
istration verification process. In this case, prospective voters
are offered, or apply to register to vote, but their application
is placed “on hold” as incomplete and/or valid, and therefore
requires additional verification. There is limited insight as to
why registration applications are submitted incomplete, and
what criteria election administrators utilize to verify “on
hold” applications (Merivaki, 2019). Investigating how voter
registration applications are processed, and why some are
invalidated have important implications for uncovering
implementation problems, as well as assessing whether voter
registration rejection rates “represent problems with the
voter registration process or large numbers of voters who
were attempting to register but were not eligible” (Pew
Charitable Trusts, 2016a). Very importantly, they raise con-
cerns about the success of these policies in ensuring equal
access to the voting process.
Analysis of aggregate data shows significant variation in
the rates of invalidated voter registrations across states
(Merivaki, 2016; Pew Charitable Trusts, 2016a). However,
access to individual-level records of “on hold” registrants is
limited, partly due to the unavailability, or lack of disclosure
from states and localities. Based on the National Voter
Registration Act (NVRA)’s public disclosure requirement,
voting rights group Project Vote was able to obtain “on hold”
records from multiple localities across the states including
914613APRXXX10.1177/1532673X20914613American Politics ResearchMerivaki
1Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, USA
Corresponding Author:
Thessalia Merivaki, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State,
MS 39762, USA.
Email: lia.merivaki@pspa.msstate.edu
Who Is Left Out? The Process of Validating
Voter Registration Applications
Part of Special Symposium on Election Sciences
Thessalia Merivaki1
Whose voter registration requires further verification and why? And why are some prospective registrants left out from
voter records? These questions can uncover challenges in the voter registration process, and potential implementation issues
with federal and state law. In this article, I analyze “on hold” voter registration applications processed between November
2007 and September 2008 in Florida’s Hillsborough and Miami-Dade Counties. I evaluate why individuals were left out of
the voter rolls, by matching their records to snapshots of the counties’ voter records from December 2008. I find that “on
hold” applicants face persistent challenges in successfully registering to vote, particularly depending on when they attempt to
register and what type of information they omit from a voter registration application.
voter registration, NVRA, election administration, Florida

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