N.C. elections board reviewing names of purportedly dead voters

kpoe@newsobserver.comSeptember 21, 2012 

— The N.C. Board of Elections was already reviewing most of the 27,500 names of people that a Raleigh-based anti-election fraud group says remain registered to vote after they died.

The Voter Integrity Project delivered the names to the elections board on Aug. 31, saying it was concerned about the potential for voting fraud. The board began reviewing the list last Tuesday and determined that it had almost 20,000 of the names from a 10-year audit of data from the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Veronica Degraffenreid, the board’s director of voter registration and absentee voting.

More than one third of those 20,000 names were already listed as inactive, meaning they were on track for removal from the voting rolls, Degraffenreid said.

Of the remaining names provided by the Voter Integrity Project, 4,946 had a match on first and last names and date of birth, Degraffenreid said, and county election boards will investigate to see if they should be removed.

She said that of all the records submitted by the organization, 196 showed voting activity after their date of death, though many of them died within days of the election and had submitted absentee ballots.

“People are concerned about voter fraud, but it is proven that we are not finding evidence of that,” Degraffenreid said. “The Voter Integrity Project has not brought forth any information to show that someone is voting in the name of another, and I think citizens in North Carolina need to be aware of that.”

The list of 27,500 names was compiled by volunteers who compared state death records with voter records by looking at first and last names, addresses and age, Voter Integrity Project Director Jay DeLancy said. They began with last names, then a volunteer would look for potential matches – for example considering an “Elizabeth” and a “Liz” with the same age and address to be a match.

“It took intuition,” DeLancy said. “We trained a lot of volunteers.”

DeLancy said he’s confident that at least 90 percent of the names he delivered should be removed from the rolls.

“I’m not surprised (the board’s) numbers were different, because we had a much lower number the first time we searched, too. We refined and refined and refined again,” he said. “I don’t mean this to sound arrogant, but we would look forward to working with the board of elections and exchange information and help them refine the project, and if we’re wrong, refine ours, because we missed it big.”

The group used “fuzzy matching,” Degraffenreid said. The death data from the Department of Health and Human Services includes age but not a date of birth, which is essential in making matches, she said.

“The Voter Integrity Project doesn’t have really the necessary data to make a determination that a voter is deceased,” Degraffenreid said.

Even a full match doesn’t mean a registered voter has died. Degraffenreid recalled removing a man who matched on first, middle and last names, date of birth and county of residence who turned out to be a different voter. He showed up to the polls and voted a provisional ballot when he was told he had been removed, she said.

Degraffenreid said that in the past five years, counties have removed more than 240,000 voters due to death, and the state elections board is actively working to improve the process.

Meanwhile, cases of fraud remain rare. In 2009, the board referred 29 cases of double voting to county district attorneys, according to a board report. Since 2000, the board has referred one case of voter impersonation, the report states.

The Voter Integrity Project’s list includes the names of North Carolinians who died in other states. They include those who died in Virginia and South Carolina, which account for 55 percent of North Carolina’s out-of-state deaths but are among a handful of states that do not allow death information to be used to maintain another states’ voting rolls.

The board is investigating all of the names DeLancy submitted – including those who died out of state, Degraffenreid said. While the states won’t submit their death certificates, the county election boards will contact family members and coordinate with registers of deeds.

The state elections board did not know that Virginia and South Carolina didn’t report death information for use in maintaining voting rolls until the Voter Integrity Project brought it to its attention in August, Degraffenreid said. The board is drafting a letter to Virginia and South Carolina to request that they change their policies about notifying the board about the deaths of North Carolinians, she said.

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