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February 23, 2019

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Pew report finds errors in voter registrations — including dead people

Municipal Voting

Leila Navidi

Volunteer Cheryl Lockhart, from right, helps voters Marion Van Druff, center, and Joe and Gail Sacco during municipal election voting at John Fremont Middle School on St. Louis Avenue in Las Vegas Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

Pew sees dead people on the voter registration rolls.

One in eight voter registrations in the United States is no longer valid or is “significantly inaccurate,” a situation that could breed distrust of the democratic process, according to a study released today by the nonprofit Pew Center on the States.

An estimated 24 million voter registrations are on the books nationwide, including 1.8 million dead people listed as active voters, according to the Pew Center.

The report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient,” is critical of paper-based voter registration systems, calling them expensive and inaccurate, and advocates for electronic voter registration. It also calls for states to share data about voters.

Nevada and seven other states, including Oregon and Washington, will share voter data and work to improve registration systems, including online applications, which Nevada instituted in Clark County in 2010.

While the study did not break down state-by-state data, election officials in Nevada acknowledged that many voter registrations may be inaccurate, particularly in Clark County.

Las Vegas saw an influx of residents during the boom years and since has suffered an economic collapse, which has forced people out of their homes, into apartments or to move in with family or friends.

“It’s a very highly transient county,” said Larry Lomax, Clark County registrar of voters. “Probably more so now, with foreclosures, but it has always been highly transient. When folks move, they rarely remember that they’re supposed to notify the elections department.”

In December, Clark County switched the status of 63,500 voters from active to inactive, primarily because addresses didn’t match a U.S. Postal Service database and voters did not return postcards requesting clarification. That represented about 8 percent of active voters.

For all the problems that Pew found, David Becker, director of election initiatives for the nonpartisan group, said it “found no evidence that any of the inaccuracies led to voter fraud or voter suppression.”

The 1.8 million deceased who are registered, for example, “are not because of fraud. The system is not designed to keep up,” he said.

(Lomax said Clark County gets a list of deaths from the state about every two weeks and updates its records. Also, widows and widowers sometimes spot spouses’ names on voter registration lists when they vote and point it out to election workers.)

Nevada Deputy Secretary for Elections Scott Gilles said, “No glaring deficiencies in our voter rolls have been identified.”

Gilles said cross-referencing voter registration records state-by-state “would be very beneficial in identifying inconsistencies and cleaning up our voter rolls,” including identifying voters who have moved.

In Nevada, inactive voters can vote but don’t receive sample ballots and other mail from the election department. Only after voters don’t participate in consecutive November federal elections — 2010 and 2012, for example — are they purged from the registration rolls.

Pew commissioned RTI International, a nonpartisan research institute, to assess the quality and accuracy of state voter registration lists. The firm hired Catalist, a company that aggregates voter information with data from marketing firms and retailers to build more comprehensive lists.

Voter registration laws are set by the states. Becker said the effort is not a move toward a national voter database. Rather, “states have indicated to us a need for better tools to maintain all their list,” he said. Better state lists “lessen need for federal reform.”

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