States joining forces to scrub voter rolls

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SEATTLE -- More than half of all 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Poll managers are looking for more states to get involved and say the efforts are necessary because outdated voter registration systems are unable to keep up with a society where people frequently move from one state to another.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 that the current disorder within the system is inviting trouble.

"It creates an environment where there could be more problems," said Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican. "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 starting in 2005 in an agreement among 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The efforts are already finding massive numbers of outdated or problematic registrations.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, or ERIC -- 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 Secretary of State Kris Kobach, another Republican, and those identifications could lead to prosecution.

Both data-matching programs are bipartisan. That differs from 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 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.

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 example, she said, there can be high error rates since different people share names and birthdates.

Mr. Kobach estimated that the Kansas program produced an error rate of maybe a few percent, which would be many thousands of voters.

Ms. 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, she said.

Some leaders in the matching programs said those are the standard procedures.

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.


First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM


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