States joining forces to scrub voter rolls
SEATTLE — More than half of states are now working in broad alliances to scrub voter rolls of millions of questionable registrations, identifying people registered in multiple states and tens of thousands of dead voters who linger on election lists.
Poll managers are looking for more states to get involved and say the efforts are necessary because outdated voter registration systems are unable to keep up with a society where people frequently move from one state to another. While many of the registration problems are innocent, some election leaders fear the current disorder within the system is inviting trouble.
“It creates an environment where there could be more problems,” said Scott Gessler, the Republican secretary of state in Colorado. “It’s a precursor to potential fraud, there’s no doubt about it.”
Half of all states have now joined a consortium anchored by the state of Kansas, compiling their voter registration lists at the end of every year to assess for duplicates. That program has grown rapidly since beginning in 2005 in an agreement between four Midwestern states.
Meanwhile, seven states are coordinating on another project that makes those assessments more frequently with advanced algorithms — while also checking for deceased voters.
The efforts are already finding massive numbers of outdated or problematic registrations. This year, the Kansas project identified some 5 million records that were questionable in 22 states and also identified some people who voted in multiple states, according to officials. The newer project — known as the Electronic Registration Information Center — identified hundreds of thousands of other registrations that need updating, including 23,000 people who were dead.
The larger system identified more than a dozen people who voted in Kansas and another state, said Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and those identifications could lead to prosecution. He said the expansion of the checks and awareness of the program will hopefully deter others from double-voting.
Both data-matching programs are bipartisan. That is different than just before the 2012 election, when Republicans predominantly led efforts they portrayed as issues of election integrity, including the purge of possible noncitizens from rolls and the passage of voter ID laws. Democrats and voter advocacy groups had raised concerns about those efforts, questioning whether they would prevent legitimate voters from casting a ballot.
“The states that are on board are all very much working as a partnership,” said Scott Gilles, Nevada’s deputy secretary of elections under Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller. Nevada has been one of the early participants in the ERIC program and also recently joined the Kansas project.
Citizenship checks are not part of the current programs. Participants in ERIC discussed doing citizenship analysis as part of its system but agreed not to include it because the data is often outdated and unreliable, said Shane Hamlin, the deputy director of election in Washington state. He said that information may be included some day in the future but not any time soon.
Wendy Weiser, who monitors voting rights issues at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, cautioned that election leaders also need to be careful to ensure that eligible voters are not getting removed.
For one, she said there can be high error rates since different people share names and birthdates. Kobach estimated that the Kansas program produced an error rate of maybe a few percent, which would be many thousands of voters.
Weiser added that states need to be careful about what they do with potential duplicates. She said voters should be notified and provided time to correct errors. If there’s no response, the voter should be placed on inactive status for two federal elections, Weiser said.
Some of the leaders in the matching programs said those are the standard procedures.
Under the Kansas program, officials produce reports identifying people who appear to be duplicate registrants. States and counties then work to verify the information and remove the voters.
Under the ERIC program, states submit their voter registration lists and driver’s license information to a data center in Wisconsin. The program also uses the Social Security Death Index and national change-of-address records. An employee of the ERIC program — funded by fees paid by the member states — runs reports from all that data that states can use.
In addition to deceased people, ERIC reports from this summer identified 93,000 people who are registered in one state but appear to now live — and are possibly registered — elsewhere, and 14,000 people who appear to be registered multiple times in one state.
Washington state officials said they had already being examining the national death index for people to remove. But they said the ERIC system has more powerful identification algorithms.
The ERIC program participants also see other potential. By expanding the available data, states are able to identify large portions of the population that appear to be eligible to vote but are not registered. The states have been sending information to those potential voters with registration details.
Washington state Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, said that fits with the duties of election leaders to make sure every eligible voter has the opportunity to participate.
“We really do have a commitment to access and a commitment to accuracy,” Wyman said.
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