We continue our “Monday Maintenance” blog series this week with Michelle Tassinari, Director and Legal Counsel for the Elections Division of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the blog below, she provides an excellent state official prospective on the state’s unique list maintenance process, including the state’s ongoing voter roll efforts.
As Michelle notes, in Massachusetts, elections are administered on a municipal level by local election officials in the state’s 351 cities and towns. The state has done an excellent job at partnering with each of the jurisdictions to carry out the list maintenance process. Below are Michelle’s answers to our “Maintenance Monday” questions.
EAC: Why is voter list maintenance important and what do you think is crucial for voters and policymakers to know about the process?
Michelle Tassinari: There is a lot of confusion as to how voter lists are maintained and the way in which the process works among the states. Overall, it’s important for voters and policymakers to know that election officials take their responsibilities for keeping an accurate voting list seriously. Just as there is a process to be added to the voter list, there is a process for updating voter information and deleting voters. Each process has requirements set forth in state and federal law and is designed to maintain the integrity of election administration. As noted by Neal Kelley in a previous blog, voters incorrectly assume that their voter information automatically updates. While there are many ways in which voters can easily update their voter registration information, local election officials strive to make sure all qualified voters remain on the lists.
EAC: Describe how you conduct voter list maintenance. How do your state and county officials work together?
Michelle Tassinari: The primary process used in Massachusetts is quite different than those used in other states and begins with the annual street listing, which some call the annual census. Each year, local election officials in the cities and towns in Massachusetts send a street listing form to each residential household on which the residents verify and/or update information including residents at the address, date of birth and voter status. If a voter fails to respond to the street listing or is stricken from a street listing form, the voter is sent a confirmation notice and placed on the inactive voter list. If a voter does not respond to their confirmation notice and does not take any steps to activate their voter status, such as signing a nomination paper, re-registering to vote or voting, for two federal elections, that voter will be removed from the list.
While the street listing process is done locally, the Secretary’s office provides legal and technical support to the local election officials. This includes providing additional potential duplicate records from our internal auditing process and death records from our Department of Public Health.
EAC: What do you do to ensure that voters are not incorrectly removed from the voter rolls?
Michelle Tassinari: While it’s important to maintain accurate lists, it is equally important to make sure voters are not incorrectly removed from the list. Under state and federal law, there is a very specific process for removing voters from the voter list. The local election officials can only remove a voter if the voter has died, the local election official has received notice that the voter has re-registered in another jurisdiction, the local election official has received a change of address notification from the registry of motor vehicles, the voter has requested to be removed in writing, or the voter has not responded to the annual street listing or follow-up confirmation notice stating they are inactive and did not vote in the next two biennial state elections following the mailing of the notice. Any voter who is deleted from the list is sent a notice of removal, which provides the voter with the ability to dispute the deletion.
Voters who are listed as inactive or are deleted are still eligible to vote upon confirmation of their current and continuous residence in their city or town.
EAC: How does voter list maintenance help you administer and plan for elections?
Michelle Tassinari: Having an accurate voting list is key to planning for elections. The number of registered voters helps us determine supplies necessary for elections. In Massachusetts, the Secretary’s office prints and delivers ballots and other election supplies, including absentee ballot envelopes, to the local election officials and we use the number of registered voters to calculate these numbers. Accurate lists are important for planning and budgeting purposes for these important projects.
EAC: How does your office define success in the voter list maintenance process?
Michelle Tassinari: The success of the voter list maintenance process is measured by the ease of voters to participate in the electoral process. The least amount of voters that have any issues with their voter registration is our greatest success.
EAC: What additional resources would help you enhance your current voter list maintenance procedures and make improvements to your voter rolls?
Michelle Tassinari: We are working now to pass legislation necessary to allow us to participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which is a list maintenance program. Our biggest challenge is identifying voters who may have moved within Massachusetts but not re-registered and those who have moved outside of Massachusetts and should no longer be on the list here. Based on the results in other states, we believe participation in ERIC will enhance our list maintenance procedures.
EAC: What is one tip or best practice you would share related to voter list maintenance?
Michelle Tassinari: Accurate voting lists require constant attention. We remind local election officials to use the information available to them and further research when they believe a voter should no longer be on their list. It’s important for them to be processing voter registrations and updating information on a regular and timely basis.
The EAC extends a big thank you to Michelle for offering this fantastic view of the Massachusetts list maintenance process! Please check back next week as we catch up with Julie Wise, Director of Elections for Washington State’s King County. In addition, last week, the EAC hosted a panel discussion about list maintenance with West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and other experts. You can watch the panel here.