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Is it legal to be registered to vote in two states?

There’s a flurry of headlines noting that Steve Bannon (Florida and New York) and Tiffany Trump (New York and Pennsylvania) are registered to vote in two states. Ditto cabinet nominee Steven Mnuchin (California and New York).

Despite the assertion of the President, it is not ‘illegal’ to be registered to vote in multiple states.

That’s because one of the key things that matters when it comes to voting is residency. (Another is age, then there’s citizenship, and if you’ve been a felon.)

Voters often fail to update their registration when they move “permanently.”

 

It would be voter fraud if someone actually voted in two states.

The data don’t support this kind of voter fraud.

 

But residency is a little messy.

That’s because many people “live” in more than one state. Two prime groups are college students and retirees who are snowbirds. There is no “stock” method of determining residency for these two groups; check your state(s) of residence.

From the National Conference on State Legislatures (pdf):

Almost every state has laws that define what it means to be a resident for voting purposes. Residency definitions generally have two basic components: where you live, and how long you have lived there.

In Washington State, the requirement is currently to establish a “voting residency address” to register. (We vote by mail.) In my home state of Georgia, you must be a “legal resident of the county” to register.

Homeless citizens or people without a fixed address (think someone who lives on a boat, for example) also pose unique challenges.

States do try to keep their voter rolls up-to-date: that’s a federal requirement:

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act mandates that state and local elections officers keep voter registration lists accurate by removing the names of people who die, move or fail in successive elections to vote. Voters who’ve been convicted of a felony, ruled mentally incompetent or found to be non-citizens also can be removed.

However there is no national voting registry.

For context, in 2010, about as many people were registered to vote in more than one state as marched in protest on Saturday January 21.

A 2010 study by the Pew Center on the States found that 1 in 8 voter registrations in the U.S. — about 24 million records — was invalid or significantly inaccurate. It found that more than 1.8 million dead people were on the rolls and almost 3 million people were registered in more than one state…

To try to avoid such problems, 15 states and the District of Columbia are now participating in something called the Electronic Registration Information Center, where they share data to weed out duplicate registrations and deceased voters. It also allows them to identify voters who have moved, so they can try to contact them to update their registrations.

How states go about managing voter rolls has been subject to controversy. In the primary, 120,000 people couldn’t vote in Brooklyn, for example.

But President Trump’s tweet?

Much ado about nothing. Like his repeated-but-debunked claims of 3-5 million people voting “illegally” for Hillary Clinton in November.

 

Featured image: King County Elections, 04 April 2016; photo by the author

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