Editor's Note: See update below.
Drametra Brown grew up in Indianapolis, attended Broad Ripple High School, and spent most of her life in the city. Now 37 and a certified nursing assistant, Drametra works with senior citizens at Alpha Home, an Indianapolis nursing home. Drametra had never voted before, but this year was different, and when a fellow staff member and good Samaritan Lisa Hamilton, Alpha Home's Admissions Director, handed out blank registration forms she had in her office to sign up elderly residents in late September, Drametra and other employees signed up as well.
Drametra filled out her application correctly. The registration form she completed asked for the same things every other Indiana resident needs to provide to register to vote: her name, address, date of birth, and social security number. It asked her to sign at the bottom, swearing – under penalty of law – that she was a U.S. citizen, over the age of 18, and a resident for at least 30 days of the precinct in which she'd be voting. All of which was true, and all of which Drametra filled in correctly.
And yet as it stands right now Drametra's registration was rejected by the Marion County Board of Elections, and Drametra won't be able to vote tomorrow.
“She's devastated,” says Mark Levine, special counsel to Project Vote. “She was excited to vote, she is eligible to vote, and she did everything you have to do to be registered to vote. But according to Marion County she won't be allowed to vote because of a bureaucratic technicality.”
You see, although it was filled-out correctly and gathered all the necessary information required from an Indiana resident, the applications Hamilton had in her office were from the 2004 election. The newer 2008 form has added two little redundant check boxes on it where a registrant affirms that he or she is a U.S. citizen and over the age of 18, while the old form only states that the registrant swears these things are true by signing -under penalty of perjury that carries up to three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
There is no substantive difference between the old forms and the new forms, and no change in the requirements for eligibility. But election officials say their hands are tied; while the old form was good enough to register voters before, the state now requires that two little boxes be checked.
Drametra didn't find out about this problem until last week, when she received a call from a volunteer working on Project Vote's Registration Repair initiative, which contacts people who attempted to register but were rejected for missing information or incomplete forms. Drametra turned up on the list of rejected registrants Project Vote obtained from the Marion County board, with the reason for rejection listed as “old form.” When informed of the problem-the first she'd heard about it-Drametra contacted the board of elections to correct the error, and was told it was too late.
Drametra is not alone; there are more than 200 people in Marion County alone rejected for the same reason, and who knows how many more in the more than 90 other counties throughout Indiana. Registration drives are conducted by staff and good Samaritans in retirement homes, hospitals, veterans care facilities, and public assistance agencies. Often short on resources, it is likely that many of these places used stacks of last year's registration forms they found in a drawer.
“Who does it benefit to keep Drametra Brown from voting?” asks Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “In the United States we say that we want every eligible voter to participate in the democratic process, but here's someone who wanted to vote, who registered to vote, who did everything right, but who will be prevented from voting by her government.
“Drametra Brown's eligibility to vote is not in question; she just swore to it on the wrong form,” Slater continues. “Marion County should let her come to the polls and cast her ballot along with every other legal voter. Let her bring her ID and whatever proof is needed, let her correct her form and check the two little redundant boxes, but let her cast the ballot she has every right to cast.”
This afternoon Project Vote filed an emergency lawsuit asking Secretary of State Todd Rokita to take steps to ensure that Ms. Brown and other eligible voters like her throughout the state are allowed to take their rightful places in the voting booths. We'll keep you informed as the situation develops.
UPDATE: In a victory for voting rights and common sense, Marion County, Indiana has agreed that 200 Indiana residents will not be blocked from the polls just because they registered using a slightly-different registration form from previous election cycles.
As we reported yesterday, Project Vote filed an emergency lawsuit against Secretary of State Todd Rokita and the Marion County Board of Elections on behalf of Drametra Brown, an Indianapolis nursing assistant whose registration was rejected because she filled out a 2004 registration form. The 2004 was slightly but not substantially different from the 2008 form, but Marion County had said they could not accept it because it lacked two small (and redundant) check boxes.
In a hearing before a judge yesterday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Marion County board agreed to allow Drametra and the other registrants who correctly submitted their registrations on an older form to vote tomorrow. There's no time to get them on the official rolls, so they will cast provisional ballots, but by court order all of these ballots will be counted.