September 27, 2012
Elections staff sees dead people.
At least, that is, they're looking hard for dead people after a recent directive from state election officials. At the busiest time in the four-year election cycle, elections staff has been tracking down 660 names of people who, according to the Voter Integrity Project of North Carolina, remain on the county's voting rolls despite being dead.
The website for the organization describes it as "a non-partisan group advocating for free and fair elections." However, MSNBC and other national sources describe the group as a conservative one with a Republican agenda.Guilford County
's elections staff is checking those names and, as a last resort, may send a form letter supplied by the state that politely asks if the person in question is dead or alive. The search for the supposed 660 dead people on the voting rolls in Guilford County
comes after the Voter Integrity Project claimed to have found about 30,000 suspect names of voters in North Carolina who had died during the last decade – but who were still listed as eligible to vote. The state was requesting that county boards examine the claims.
On Friday, Sept. 7, the state sent a list of the suspected deceased to the Guilford County
Board of Elections, and requested that the office research the names and determine whether those on the list were dead or alive.Guilford County
Board of Elections Deputy Director Charlie Collicutt said his office always wants to make sure the voting rolls are accurate. He said it wasn't complaints from the group that got his office searching for dead people. Collicutt said the list from the Voter Integrity Project was the starting point of the investigation, but he said county election workers aren't just removing those supplied names from the rolls.
"We're not taking their word for it," he said.
Collicutt said county election officials don't want dead people to stay on the rolls – but they also don't want legitimate voters to show up to vote only to find out they've been pronounced dead by election officials.
"We're going to try to err on the side of the voter," he said.
Collicutt said elections workers have been checking with the Guilford County
Registrar of Deeds office and the Department of Public Health, as well as checking state records and other sources to determine who's dead and who's alive.
According to Collicutt, about a third of the names provided to Guilford County
didn't pan out – that is, they didn't match the names of actual voters still registered to vote.
"Of the 660," he said, "275 were not an exact match in middle name or in birth date."
He said they were the names of deceased who had names similar to those still on the rolls – but who were in reality different people.
The other 385 are thought to be deceased voters who are still listed as eligible to vote.
"That's a good assumption," he said. "However, we are checking to see if they are actually dead by cross-referencing them against a master list of deaths from the Department of Health and Human Services."
He added that his office was continuing to research the other names as well.
"The 275 are not being ignored though," Collicutt said. "We're checking to see if there may have been transcription or other errors that made them not match. If there was some type of error like that, we'll check them off of the Department of Health and Human Services list as well. All 660 will be checked; we're just more certain about the 385. I would guess that the vast majority of them will not be on the books once we're done."
Collicutt said Guilford County
already goes through the voter rolls once a month to mark off the deceased, but he added that sometimes names are missed because a voter might, for instance, die in another state.
Virginia, for example, doesn't share notice of death information with North Carolina. In other cases, records might have been overlooked or the deceased might have changed his or her name in the period between registering to vote and dying.
North Carolina is considered an important swing state in the 2012 presidential election, and, as such, the state is drawing a lot of scrutiny from voter groups as well as attention from national media. In 2008, President Barack Obama won the state by under 14,000 votes, which was a half of a percentage point of the votes cast.
On MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show last week, the effort to remove the names of deceased voters in North Carolina was the lead story.
Conservative groups, such as Project Veritas, focused attention on the issue as well. A Sept. 6 fundraising letter, titled "30,000 Dead Voters: A letter from James O'Keefe" stated: "Investigators in North Carolina just released a list of 30,000 dead people still registered to vote in their state. That's more than TWICE the margin of Barack Obama's victory there in 2008!"
Chuck Winfree, a Greensboro attorney who's a Republican member of the NC State Board of Elections, said the state does a good job of removing dead people from the roll using information from the NC Department of Health and Human Services. Winfree said boards of elections across the state work hard to keep the voting rolls up to date, and that some counties check the obituaries, deeds offices and other records in addition to the list of recently deceased they get regularly from the state.
Winfree also said it's wise to worry about voter fraud, but this type of fraud – people voting in place of the deceased – isn't a type of fraud that worries him greatly. He said there are other forms that are more concerning.
"It's not being done with dead voters," he said. "Voter fraud in general is a bigger issue."
He said this type of fraud does happen. He said he remembered a case in 2008 in which a voter went into an early voting site and gave a fake name and address.
"But out of habit he signed his real name," Winfree said.
He said the discrepancy wasn't caught by the poll worker but was discovered by election officials later.
Winfree said there are cases like that one when those casting votes illegally are caught, but he added that, due to the nature of the voter fraud, it's difficult to determine the extent of it.
"It's not unlike illegal immigration," Winfree said. "We know it's out there, but how big is it?"
Concerns over this type of fraud have led some to push for a law in North Carolina requiring voters to show identification before being allowed to vote. That way, a person couldn't simply walk in and give the name of dead person still on the rolls.
"That's a legislative issue," Winfree said, adding that there was a failed attempt to pass a voter identification requirement law in North Carolina.
Winfree said voting in place of another person, either dead or alive, could be just "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to voter fraud, vote manipulation and election tampering.
"A more pervasive problem is what I call 'aggressive assistance,'" Winfree said. "In some cases people ask to accompany others into the voting booth, saying, 'I'm going to help.'"...continued on page 2