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Election Lawyers, Politicians Kick Off Drive to Modernize Voter Registration

Correction Appended

Two top election attorneys, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, called Monday for a national modernization of voter registration.

Democratic recount lawyer Marc Elias and Republican campaign attorney Trevor Potter announced that they are forming the bipartisan Committee to Modernize Voter Registration. Although the committee does not have specific legislation in mind, Potter and Elias said they hope to serve as resources and advocates for improvements to the current registration laws.

“The committee has been formed,— Elias said. “We’re here today to say that this is something this committee is going to work toward, to promote, be a resource for those on Capitol Hill. … It doesn’t mean that we have every answer to every question about how this will be implemented.—

Potter and Elias personally witnessed some of the problems with the current voter registration system during the last few election cycles.

Potter said he thought many registration issues were resolved after the debacle in Florida in 2000 and after Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, but his work as counsel to national Republican campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 elections showed him otherwise.

“The registration system is operating on an infrastructure left over from horse and buggy days,— Potter said, citing the use of temporary workers to cull registration lists and the fact that voter rolls are often incomplete.

Both attorneys said they supported matching state voter rolls with federal lists, such as immigration and Selective Service lists. Potter also specifically advocated for allowing voters to opt out of registering at the Department of Motor Vehicles instead of opting to sign up under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, otherwise known as the Motor Voter Act.

Elias said the issues “really came home for me— last cycle in Minnesota, where he was the lead attorney for Sen. Al Franken’s (D) recount team. Even though Minnesota has same-day voter registration, Elias said the problems with voter registration became obvious during the recount — a contest Franken eventually won by 312 votes after a long and litigious battle.

“But it shouldn’t take eight months and millions of dollars to get to that point where the issue involves voter registration,— Elias said.

The venture was organized by the Rockefeller Family Fund, and several notable former Members of Congress and state leaders have signed on, including former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), and former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.).

Correction: Aug. 31, 2009

The article misstated who organized the modernization initiative. It was the Rockfeller Family Fund.

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