List of purportedly dead N.C. voters includes some live ones

Anti-fraud effort mourns 51 too soon

kpoe@newsobserver.comNovember 2, 2012 

— The state Board of Elections has gone through the list of thousands of names of purportedly dead voters that a Raleigh-based anti-voting fraud group delivered two months ago, and some of them turned out to be very much alive.

George Smith, 84, of Raleigh laughed when he received a letter from the Wake County Board of Elections asking him about his status as a living voter.

“I live in an apartment, and I posted it on my door for a week and highlighted that I’m dead,” Smith said. “Some of my neighbors had a big laugh out of it.”

Some of the 51 Wake County voters who so far have turned up alive and breathing after the anti-fraud group fingered them as among the dead and buried were not laughing when they got the letters, according to election officials.

The Voter Integrity Project, a Raleigh-based group aimed at reducing the potential for voter fraud, initially submitted nearly 30,000 names to the state Board of Elections. The group said its research indicated that the people were dead and still among the more than 6.6 million registered to vote in North Carolina.

A week later, after some examination of duplicate names, the list was pared to about 28,000. Seven thousand more names were removed because of discrepancies with the dates of birth, leaving 20,527 names that the state delivered to the county boards of elections, which make the final determination, said Veronica Degraffenried, the state’s director of voter registration and absentee voting.

Orange, Durham and Wake counties have finished checking the names. About a third of the 463 names submitted to Wake were removed, though an exact number won’t be available until after Tuesday’s election, said Gary Sims, deputy director of the county Board of Elections. Durham County received 1,278 names and has removed 678 people from voter rolls since then, although some of those came from the regular monthly health department reports. Orange County received 375 names and removed 176 of them.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Sims said. “Whenever (the Voter Integrity Project) pulled their list, it was extremely out of date. There were probably 400 or 500 that were identified, but we went through and looked at it, and most of them had already been removed.”

If a county couldn’t confirm a voter’s death with public records, it sent a letter. Wake County sent 148 letters to the addresses or families of purportedly deceased voters on the list, and had heard from 51 people who are still alive, Sims said. A few family members responded to say the voter in question had died. Without a death certificate, the board can remove someone because of death only if it gets confirmation from a family member; if no one responds to the letter, the voter stays on the rolls.

One of the people on the list of “dead” voters was a poll worker, alive and ready to work. Some took the letters lightly, but others were enraged, Sims said.

“There were some emotional phone calls from senior citizens upset that someone had made an assumption about them,” Sims said. “We say, ‘This isn’t the Board of Elections, this is this outside group.’ ”

The number of living voters on the list was disturbing, Voter Integrity Project Director Jay DeLancy said, but it’s still too early to draw conclusions about total numbers.

“I would love to get the names because we need to figure out what we did wrong,” DeLancy said. “We want to know where our research was in error. If you run that as a percentage, that’s alarming.”

Project volunteers compiled the list by comparing state death records with voter records, using first and last names, addresses and age, 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.

But the group did not have date-of-birth data, which are confidential under state election law. The state removed about 7,000 names from the Voter Integrity Project’s list because the birth dates on the death certificates and the voter registrations did not match.

Overall, DeLancy said, he’s proud of his group’s accuracy. He noted that the Voter Integrity Project’s list included about 20,000 names that the state Board of Elections was already investigating because they appeared in an audit of 10 years of data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Voter Integrity Project describes itself as a nonpartisan group aimed at clean and fair elections. It supports requiring photo identification to vote, which Republicans typically support and Democrats typically oppose.

Sims said the Wake County board found the removal process especially challenging because the names were submitted in the heat of election season, when the board is already at its busiest. He said he and his staff worked weekends and nights to complete the examination of the list, as well as field phone calls from people angry about the letters.

“Any process that helps us maintain the list, well, I don’t think I would fault them for that,” Sims said. “I just wish if people were going to make data matches, that they would make up-to-date data matches, and maybe a little more accurate data matches.”

Poe: 919-829-4563

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