There's compelling evidence from credible sources that voter rolls around the country are generally littered with bad information.It's wrong to jump from there to the conclusion that voting fraud is rampant.But in a tensely competitive presidential election year, protecting the integrity of elections and protecting voting rights seem to have become competing interests.It's a false conflict with destructive consequences.The latest episode involves whether states can use a federal database, known as SAVE (Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program), to help determine whether noncitizens are erroneously registered as voters.SAVE allows government agencies to verify whether legal immigrants qualify for benefits and licenses. Those listed in the database have typically been assigned an identifying number, such as through a visa or green card. The system isn't designed to track whether illegal immigrants are improperly listed on voter rolls maintained at the state level.There is no master list of illegal immigrants that allows one to say, "See? We told you they've been stealing our elections!"Now that the Homeland Security Department has agreed, after months of sparring, to give Florida access to SAVE, other states are asking for it, too, to help purge wrongly registered noncitizens.Texas Secretary of State Esperanza "Hope" Andrade joined that effort Wednesday, though a spokesman characterized it as "just taking the first steps" and said no decisions have been made about how the state might use the information. Texas maintains a central voter database that is revised periodically when counties submit their updated lists, but state officials haven't determined how many noncitizens they believe might be improperly on the rolls.It's unclear whether any changes could be made based on SAVE before November balloting.Lawsuits involving Florida dispute whether federal law prevents states from purging voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election.Clean and accurate voter lists are a worthy goal, and are important to valid elections and public confidence in the results.It's unfortunate that the tug-of-war over the SAVE records looks less like safeguarding the vote and more like maximizing the Republican and Democratic parties' ability to win in November.Republicans act as though this tool is critical; Democrats argue that Republicans risk disenfranchising large numbers of minority voters.The reality is that election officials, academics and technology specialists have argued for years that our state-based voter registration system is costly, inefficient and desperate for modernization.The nonpartisan Pew Center for the States reported in February that about 12.7 million voter records nationwide are out of date, 1.8 million show dead people on the rolls and 12 million have incorrect addresses. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of eligible voters -- 51 million people -- aren't registered. (bit.ly/KyOIvC)Part of the problem is that many people move and wrongly assume their voter registration follows them. The system also invites error: It's done mostly on paper, with new registrations flooding in right before election deadlines and without sufficient ways for officials to crosscheck and verify data.Using the Homeland Security database might be a small help in ensuring accuracy. The Miami Herald reported in June that Florida officials developed a list of more than 2,600 people who might be noncitizens; the state determined that 500 were citizens and 80 were noncitizens, and officials want to use the federal data for further checking. More than 40 of those noncitizens might have voted illegally, according to reports, though it's unclear whether they mistakenly believed they were eligible or knowingly engaged in fraud.Noncitizens shouldn't be voting. But citizens wrongly taken off the rolls should have ample opportunity to prove their eligibility before Election Day. In Texas, a voter considered for purging is notified by the county voter registrar to provide proof of eligibility within 30 days.Elections are tainted when people try to sway the outcome knowing they shouldn't be voting. But fair elections are also undermined when legitimate voters are prevented from participating.Protecting voting rights and electoral integrity ought to go hand in hand, not get caught in the partisan schism.