Squaring the rolls

September 5, 2012 

Voting has always been about politics, and increasingly, politics is about the voting process. Witness the sharply partisan divide over Voter ID laws.

A subset of the argument in favor of polling-place photo identification laws is that voter impersonation – someone signing at the polls in the name of a registered voter – is a significant problem in local, state or national elections. And one form of impersonation is for someone to vote in the name of a person who’s still listed on the voting rolls even though no longer among the rolls of the living.

The specter of dead people voting goes way back; its American epicenter is usually located in the machine-controlled wards of old Chicago. There, the legendary offense may have been more akin to ballot-stuffing than impersonation, but that doesn’t make deceased Americans any more eligible to vote.

So when a Raleigh-based group, the Voter Integrity Project, comes up with nearly 30,000 names of dead North Carolinians who are still registered to vote, the N.C. Board of Elections needs to take notice, even if the alarm may turn out to be more smoke than fire.

The Elections Board cites coordination problems in getting information from death certificates into the hands, or computers, of election officials who can verify genuine matches and remove the dead from the lists. Nonetheless, that must be done, and promptly – the goal should be before the next election. Then there are legal problems in transferring death information from South Carolina and Virginia to North Carolina. Surely some sensible, on-point changes can be made to speed that process.

Claims of significant voter-identification fraud properly face a high hurdle, because it makes so little sense for someone to commit this felony, which adds but one vote to the pile but subjects the offender to severe penalties, including prison. Yet if speedier purging of expired voters from the rolls would offer even less reason for polling-place impersonation, let it be done.

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