07/16/2012 03:59 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2012

It's Not About Pets, But Helping People to Register

Dogs can't vote. Cats can't either. Just want to be clear about that in case you're confused by all the coverage that's being given to a handful of pets who have received voter registration applications from the Voter Participation Center (VPC). We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit with one mission: to register and turnout the most underrepresented and fastest growing groups in our country, the Rising American Electorate (RAE). The RAE, unmarried women, people of color and young people, makes up 53 percent of the voting-eligible population.

Since last September, we have sent out more than seven million voter applications and assisted more than 350,000 citizens with the registration process. That's in addition to the one million citizens we have helped register since 2004. Out of seven million applications a few of them have gone astray, the result of errors in a mailing list. Two years ago that would be understood. But in today's toxic operating environment, it's an excuse to yell "fraud" and distract us from the real story -- the crisis in our democracy.

More than one-in-three Americans, 73 million of us, are not registered to vote. And 60 percent of the unregistered are members of the RAE. These demographics are destiny. The continued growth in the RAE's share of the population is inevitable; but the growth in their share of the voting pool is not. Our job at the VPC is to make it easier for these hard to reach, highly mobile citizens to participate in our democracy.

State efforts are inadequate to address this issue. Third party efforts - such as those run by the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, the NAACP, Mi Familia Vota, and every other third-party registration groups -- are essential to ensure we close this gap. We would point your attention to the San Antonio Express columnist who observed that the efforts of the VPC go "way beyond helpful to absolutely necessary." But, some would use the imperfections in the system to cry "voter fraud," despite the fact that election experts agree that modern-day voter fraud is a very rare occurrence in the U.S.

As the Brennan Center for Justice notes, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to come across an actual case of voter fraud - a fact that's just been reinforced by the Immigration Policy Center's new Fact Check. Not only have these laws been implemented to solve a problem that doesn't exist -- they will have the most impact on the targets of the VPC's registration efforts. According to the Brennan Center, these laws could keep as many as five million qualified voters -- most of them members of the RAE -- from the polls in November. That is a real problem in a nation that prides itself on being a representational democracy.

The other very real problem threatening our democracy is the fact that our voter registration system is largely broken. In their report, "Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence that America's Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade," the Pew Center on the States characterized our nation's voter registration system as "plagued with errors and inefficiencies" and detailed the extent of the problem:

• Approximately 24 million -- one of every eight -- voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.
• More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.
• Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.
• About 12 million records have incorrect addresses, meaning either the voters moved, or errors in the information make it unlikely any mailings can reach them.

Bottom line: our voter registration lists need a major overhaul and state efforts to register underrepresented individuals are sorely lacking. But until those things happen, we would rather risk a handful of voter registration pieces going astray than stop trying to register the more than 35 percent of qualified Americans who still aren't on the rolls.