Here’s a Vote for Cleaning Up the Rolls


When you read as many reports, studies, analyses and similar materials as I do, it’s difficult to be shocked by many of the facts that emerge. But check out these numbers from the Pew Center on the States regarding voter registration:

  • 24 million vote registrations either invalid or largely inaccurate
  • 1.8 million dead people still listed as active voters
  • 2.75 million who are registered to vote in more than one state
  • 51 million (estimated) voting-age U.S. residents who are not registered

Here’s a portion of the NPR story on the findings.

Election officials say one problem is that Americans move around a lot. And when they do, they seldom alert the local election office that they’ve left.

Ben Skupien, a registered voter who now lives in Northern Virginia, is pretty typical. He has moved repeatedly over the years and says he’s probably registered to vote in about a half-dozen states.

"The assumption, I would think, is that they would do the courtesy of letting the other states know that if you’re registered with a new state, [the old registration] would no longer apply," said Skupien.

In fact, states seldom share such information. The Pew study found that almost 3 million people are registered to vote in more than one state.

Voters also die, which leads to another problem, says Linda Lamone, who runs Maryland’s elections.

"If a John Smith lives in Maryland and goes to another state, say on vacation, and dies," Lamone said, "the law of the state where John Smith dies dictates whether or not the Maryland vital statistics people can share that information with me."

And even when they do — or if a person dies in-state — there’s often a delay before election officials are alerted. It’s also not always clear that the individual on the death certificate is the same one who’s registered to vote. Election officials still have to do a lot more digging to avoid accidentally taking someone off the rolls who is very much alive.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed says it’s amazing how many times his state has come across names on the voter rolls that appear to be the same person, but turn out not to be.

"We’ve even had cases, in very small counties, people [with the] same name and same birth dates," added Reed.

He said that has led to inaccurate reports that "dead" people are voting. He admits there have been a few cases in his state where widows or widowers have cast ballots for former spouses, but he said such fraud is very rare.

Still, election officials say it’s important that the public have confidence in the system.

So Washington and seven other states — Oregon, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Utah and Nevada — are joining a pilot program to share more voter information and other databases, to try to make their lists more accurate. 

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