Error rates in third-party voter registration efforts

One question that frequently arises about voter registration processes is the error rate in the information provided to election officials, in particular, when those voter registration forms come from third-party registration efforts. As far as I know there has been no large-scale effort to determine the error rate in third-party voter registration efforts, but if readers do know of such studies I’d appreciate the citations which I will post if provided.

But there is some data in a short story coming out of San Bernardino County in Southern California, as reported in this morning’s Los Angeles Times. This story involves allegations that a company hired by a political party to register voters may have submitted “thousands of flawed voter registration forms.”

According to this story, “County voting officials said they found problems with many of the nearly 3,000 registration forms submitted by the company, including 1,800 that lacked voters’ driver’s license numbers or other official forms of identification, which were required by a state law this year.” Specifics include:

“More than half of the forms lacked an identification number, such as a driver’s license number, they said.

They also discovered a few people had been registered multiple times, and received one complaint from someone who was not a U.S. citizen and couldn’t understand how he could be eligible to vote.”

The signature gathering firm apparently was paid in the past about $3 for each voter registration form it provided, but the rate has allegedly doubled in recent years in this part of Southern California to $6 per voter registration form.

The more general question of signature gathering efforts, either for voter registration or for ballot petitions, has received surprisingly little analysis in the political science literature. Recently Fred Boehmke and I have started to study this issue in some detail, and there are now two working papers that we have in circulation on the issue of petition signature gathering efforts in California: “Where the Good Signatures Are: The Number and Validity Rates of Initiative Petition Signatures Gathered in California Counties”, and “The Influence of Initiative Signature Gathering Campaigns on Political Participation”.

Update, March 8, 2006: There is a follow-up story in the Los Angeles Times, “GOP Halts Paid Voter-Drive Program”.