Voter Rolls: No Grave Concern

Update: Secretary of the State’s <press release>

A UConn study reported in the Hartford Courant demonstrates that the ultimate disability is not a barrier to voting in Connecticut: Dead Voters? Probe Finds Errors In Records, <read>. The deceased continue on the voter rolls and occasionally vote.

a list of more than 300 people across Connecticut who appear to have voted from the grave in elections dating to 1994, a two-month investigation of voting records by journalism students at the University of Connecticut has found.

The mysterious voters were identified by matching a statewide database of 2 million registered voters and their voting histories with two separate computer lists of dead people maintained by the state Department of Public Health and the federal Social Security Administration.

Following up on the matches, UConn students examined the records of nearly 100 of the suspect voters at 10 town and city halls among those with the most cases. Guilford led the state with 39, followed by West Hartford (17), Enfield (15), Stonington (13) and Norwalk (11).

Some people appeared to have voted frequently after death, the research found. In Hebron, for example, records show one man voted 17 times after he died in 1992.

The investigation also identified more than 8,500 people listed as dead who are still registered to vote in Connecticut, most long after their deaths. In Hamden, one woman remained a registered voter although she died in 1979…

All but nine of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities listed dead people on active voter rolls. At least 100 cases were identified in each of 28 cities and towns. In New Haven alone, 370 dead people were still registered; in Enfield there were 321; in West Haven, 310; in Hartford, 298; and in Bridgeport, 293.

While there are serious problems with Connecticut’s online voter registration system, concerns with deceased voters center around the antiquated clerical systems and local election administration:

The UConn findings highlight two nagging problems facing officials trying to keep accurate voting records. First is the informal and antiquated ways many local registrars remove dead people from voter rolls. Second is the potential for clerical errors when registrars transfer information from paper voting lists to the state database, especially in the rush to update by the two-day, post-election deadline.

Many of those interviewed blame a locally based election system that has not changed much in decades. In many towns, elections and voter registration are run by part-time registrars who are paid little, have limited resources, and may resist the growing role of computers in elections.

The UConn findings are disturbing but not surprising, said Andy Sauer, executive director of Connecticut Common Cause, a public-interest group that lobbies for election reform. He blamed many of the system’s problems on politically appointed local registrars using outdated methods of running elections and keeping records. Each town has two registrars, one Democrat and one Republican.

“You need to take the election administration out of the hands of a politician and into the hands of a state administration,” he said, a solution many in the system might consider unrealistic…

Registrars tend to rely on newspaper obituaries, relatives, or word of mouth to learn of someone’s death, many officials said.

Even then, registrars are advised to be extremely cautious about purging dead people from voter rolls, said George Cody, president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut and New Canaan’s Democratic registrar. They must see documentary proof, such as the death certificate or a published obituary, before removing someone’s name…

Local officials are well aware of the system’s weaknesses, said Carole Young-Kleinfeld, a deputy registrar in Wilton and a spokeswoman for the Connecticut League of Women Voters. “The possibility of human error at election time is very real. Checkers at the polls mistakenly cross off sons instead of fathers, and vice versa, or cross off neighbors who have similar names.”

[Michael] Kozik [managing attorney for the secretary of the state's office] downplayed the significance of voter history errors. Those records are kept mostly as a convenience to political parties, which use the information to target frequent voters, he said.

But [Joan M.] Andrews, of the elections enforcement commission, said a state record that shows who voted and who did not should be accurate. Especially troubling, she said, are those dead people whose votes are confirmed by check-off lists, which can only result from multiple errors in the process.

She described most problems as “systematic” and blamed them on “a lack of uniformity” at the local level. Municipalities are supposed to follow the same state-mandated procedures, she said, “but when you go out to a town, you find that they aren’t.”

The UConn report is consistent with many of the concerns expressed in the Coalition report on post-elecition audits which found many instances where produres were not followed:

In twelve of thirty-four observed audits, audit teams followed procedures, with no reported failures to follow procedures or chain of custody problems.

In thirteen of forty-seven instances observation report forms were not accurately completed. Many of these were failures to record the number of ballots or failure to record hand counts when presumably they matched the machine tape counts. In one instance, the audit reporting form from the November 2007 election was used rather than the revised from required in the February 2008 procedures. (See Appendix B for examples)

In several cases, forms that would have been filled in incorrectly were filled in correctly only because observers pointed out mistakes to the election officials.

In two instances of thirty-four observed audits, ballots were left unattended in empty rooms with only observers present. In one instance of thirty-four observed audits, ballots were left under the observation of only one elected official who started the audit alone.

In at least three instances of thirty-four observed audits, ballots were not or were never sealed. In addition, four instances of thirty-four observed audits, unsealing of ballots either did not occur or occurred before observers arrived, before the scheduled start of the public audit.

In one instance, two counts were off but the election officials decided, in the presence of observers, to record that the counts were equal in the report.

In one instance, the seal number did not match, but was not immediately reported to the Secretary of the State’s Office as required in the procedures.

In one instance, the location of the audit changed without notice, and in two cases the start time of the audit changed to 30 and 60 minutes earlier without notice.

In spite of the three business days notice required in the new procedures and many calls to registrars, we were unable to determine dates, times, and locations of all audits before they occurred. In at least one other instance we were told the time of an audit of one party primary but not told that there was another time for the other party primary audit.

Frequently audit supervisors made statements such as “Our job is to prove the machine counted accurately” or “The count is off by x votes for candidate y” giving a goal for the counters to find an exact error in their counting.

Over and over observers reported that procedures were not being followed step by step. Often it seemed that audit supervisors, even if they had read the procedures, focused on filling in the data on the report form without regard for the steps and understanding of the details.

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