February 16, 2012

I. In Focus This Week

One in eight voter registrations inaccurate or invalid
Groundbreaking study finds nearly 2 million dead voters on rolls

By Samuel Derheimer
Pew Center on the States

Approximately 24 million active voter registrations in the United States — one of every eight — are no longer valid or have significant inaccuracies and nearly a quarter of the eligible voting population is not registered, according to the Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives.

New research in the report Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient underscores the need for registration systems that use the latest technology to better maintain voter records, save money, and streamline processes.

The groundbreaking examination of the nation’s voter rolls, commissioned by Pew and undertaken by RTI International, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, also finds that:

  • Nearly two million deceased individuals are listed as active voters;

  • Approximately 2.75 million people have active 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.

“It’s really only recently that we’ve had the technology to audit voter registration systems in a comprehensive way,” Toby Moore, who led the research on behalf of RTI, said.

To end what Moore labeled “the days of grossly inflated voter registration rolls,” election officials need access to better data and the tools to manage that data.

The reality is that Americans no longer live and vote in one location all their life. Our antiquated voter registration systems — based on paper, mail and data-entry by hand — cannot keep pace with America’s mobile public.

Mark Thomas, director of elections for the state of Utah, noted the specific difficultly of removing deceased voters from the rolls.

“If a voter passes away within our state, we have a good system for notification of death.”

But if a registered voter passes away out of state, “we just don’t get that notification,” Thomas said.

The outdated systems are also costly. Pew found that in 2008, Oregon’s state and local taxpayers spent $4.11 per active voter to process registrations. By contrast, Canada, which uses modern technology common in the private sector, spends less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations. 

Every inaccurate record could cost states. “It’s not free every time a voter receives a mailing from an election official,” Thomas said.

If his office can remove records that are no longer valid or correct address and name inaccuracies that might lead to returned mail, the taxpayers of Utah will have to pay for fewer mailings.

Proven solutions and technology are already in place in many government offices and the private sector that state election officials can employ to improve the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of their voter registration systems.

Over the past two years, election officials from several states have been working with Pew on plans to upgrade their voter registration systems using advanced technology to achieve greater accuracy of the rolls, increased savings, and improved processes. This new approach consists of three elements:

  • Comparing registration lists with other data sources, such as motor vehicle and National Change of Address records, to broaden the base of information used to update and verify voter rolls;

  • Implementing proven techniques and security protocols that use those data sources to better track and identify both inaccurate records that could be removed and eligible citizens who could be registered; and

  • Minimizing manual data entry by establishing ways voters can submit information online, which will result in lower costs and fewer errors.

Thomas believes Pew’s system would improve his state’s ability to clean its rolls. “Without being able to communicate with other states,” Thomas said, “list maintenance is limited.”

Moore cautioned that the report made no conclusion that bad records were leading to bad votes. He said the report exposed administrative problems and could not be read to indicate the existence of fraud.

II. Election News This Week

  • Voters in Oklahoma went to the polls this week for the first time since the state purchased all-new voting equipment and according to officials, things went fairly well. “From the election administration point of view, just about everything is new,” Paul Ziriax, secretary of the state board of elections told the Tulsa World. Seventy-three of the state’s 77 counties held elections Tuesday, providing election officials with a test run of sorts before the March 6 presidential primaries. The state conducted a mock election earlier this year, but this is the first time the new machines were used when the results mattered. The state also used a new online reporting system for the first time. The system provides comprehensive results for every election. In the past the website only provided information on federal and statewide elections. Ziriax told the paper that the major issue the board dealt with Tuesday night was a delay in reporting on the website the total number of precincts reporting.

  • Voting for America filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Texas this week. The nonprofit’s lawsuit alleges that Texas voter rolls have been actively suppressed by excessive restrictions on volunteers who conduct registration drives. “A developing body of state practices and provisions targeted at voter registration activities is endangering the rights of many Texas voters,” the lawsuit alleges. According to the Houston Chronicle, Voting for America is affiliated with Project Vote. In other Texas news, a federal court in San Antonio announced Wednesday that Texas’ primary elections won’t take place until at least May 29 due to the ongoing battle over the state’s redistricting. “It appears based on all the things that are going on here that it is extremely unlikely there will be a primary in April or for that matter before May 29,” Judge Jerry Smith said. “Based on the discussion we just had with the political parties, we asked that they start working on an election schedule.”
  • A group of Colorado activists, including Marilyn Marks who founded the Citizen Center, filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Scott Gessler and six county clerks this week. The lawsuit purports that their election practices are unconstitutional because they allow some ballots to be traced to the person who cast them. According to The Denver Post, the lawsuit argues that voters in the six counties cited are being deprived of their right to a secret vote. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled last year that voted ballots are public records and should be made available for inspection. That case is being appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. “The right to a secret ballot is a revered principle of American democracy,” Marks told the paper. “No one, most particularly government officials, should have access to information that can connect ballots with voters,” Marks said. Gessler called the lawsuit “misguided.” He also told the paper his office is working with lawmakers, and “is here to do what’s necessary to make sure people’s votes are secret.” The lawsuit names clerks in Boulder, Chaffee, Eagle, Jefferson, Larimer and Mesa counties.
  • Personnel News: Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is “testing the waters” to run for Washington secretary of state. Tim Gorbach, director of the Summit County, Ohio board of elections resigned late last week after being told that his contract would not be renewed at an upcoming board meeting. Washington County, Tenn. Administrator Connie Sinks was fired by the county’s election commission late last week after Sinks terminated one employee and demoted another over an open meetings issues. The commission also reinstated the fired employee and gave the title of acting administrator to the demoted employee.

IV. Opinions 

National News: Vote fraud; Student voters; Voter ID; Voting Rights Act; Voter suppression; Voting system; Pew report

Arkansas: Voting rights

California: Ranked-choice voting

Colorado: Ballot privacy

Connecticut: Modernization

Florida: New election law

Illinois: Electoral College

Indiana: Charlie White, II, III, IV; Vote centers

Iowa: Voter ID, II

Minnesota: Voter ID, II

New Hampshire: Voter ID

New York: Vote counting; Primaries

North Carolina: Election funds, II, III

Ohio: Election reform law, II, III

Oklahoma: Voter ID

Pennsylvania: Voter ID

South Carolina: Voter ID

Texas: Voter ID; Election-day registration

Virginia: Voter ID

Washington: Vote-by-mail

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V. Job Openings

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