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Elections: Widespread Misinformation on Who Can Vote

By John S. James

September 15, 2004

Recently we saw inaccurate stories about who can vote, in two Philadelphia newspapers. One said that those convicted of a felony could not vote for five years in Pennsylvania; the other implied that you did not need to be a U.S. citizen. Because of the importance of the November 2 election, and the fact that voter-qualification misinformation has circulated widely for years, we quote the official statement from the Web site of the Pennsylvania Department of State, as of August 10, 2004:

"The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled on December 26, 2000, that the Pennsylvania law prohibiting convicted felons from registering to vote for five years after their release from prison is unconstitutional. Consequently, if completing an older version of the Voter Registration Mail Application (VRMA) form, a convicted felon who has been released from prison may make application to register to vote by striking through the felony conviction line at Section 9(2) on the VRMA and signing his or her name.

"[Please note that convicted felons who are incarcerated on the date of a primary or election are not eligible to vote, irrespective of whether they are registered. However, pretrial detainees and misdemeanants are eligible to apply to register to vote and/or to vote by absentee ballot if they otherwise qualify to vote under law.]" Quoted from

Also note that Pennsylvania voters who move (even within the same county) must take identification with them the first time they vote at their new address (it does not have to be photo ID). First-time voters must also bring identification to the polls. In Pennsylvania, a list of approved forms of identification is at The ID list is also in the Pennsylvania Voter Handbook, which can be downloaded from the Department of State Web site, (click "Voting in PA"; then click "Pennsylvania Voter Guide").

Each state is different. You may want to watch for and correct inadvertent or deliberate misinformation that could intimidate people or otherwise keep them from voting.

New Report on Voter Intimidation Nationally

In August 2004 People for the American Way and the NAACP released "The Long Shadow of Jim Crow; Voter Intimidation and Suppression in America Today." It can be downloaded from or

ISSN # 1052-4207

Copyright 2004 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.

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