A nonprofit group working to boost voter registration in Idaho has left some Kootenai County residents angry or suspicious after names on its get-out-the-vote list included deceased residents.
The county elections office has unfairly taken some blame, even though workers in the office had nothing to do with the voter registration drive.
The Voter Participation Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C., mailed hundreds of voter registration forms already filled out along with postage-paid envelopes addressed to the elections office. The outreach was part of an effort to build participation in elections among African-Americans, Latinos, unmarried women and millennials, the group said.
But some of the names on its list were those of deceased residents, former residents or people who apparently never lived in the county, elections officials said.
“Citizens are concerned that they or their loved ones are part of a scam geared toward voter fraud,” Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon said in a news release Monday.
The county elections staff received about 30 written complaints and 50 phone calls from residents who were upset or worried about the mailer, said Carrie Phillips, the elections manager.
But her office also saw a spike in legitimate voter registrations from the mailer. Phillips estimated that more than 300 new voter registrations resulted from the Voter Participation Center outreach.
“So granted, they were doing a good thing, they had good intentions. It’s just they’ve kind of caused a problem with sending information to people who are deceased,” she said.
In a statement emailed to The Spokesman-Review, Page Gardner, founder and president of the Voter Participation Center, said, “We are taking unprecedented steps to ensure that our mail pieces reach the right people.”
The mailing states that the organization is dedicated to increasing voting among historically underrepresented Americans.
“We make it simple to check your registration status online, and to be removed from our mailing list if we’ve sent you mail in error,” Gardner said.
“Despite our best efforts, sometimes mail goes to the wrong recipient,” she added. “When that happens, VPC moves quickly to correct it.”
The group said it’s trying to reach about 265,000 Idaho residents who are not registered to vote.
Kootenai County officials said the Voter Participation Center had planned another mailing to prompt voter registration this fall. At the request of the county clerk’s office, the group won’t go forward with the mailing in the county.
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