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electionlineWeekly--February 16, 2012

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

One in eight voter registrations inaccurate or invalid
Groundbreaking study finds nearly 2 million dead voters on rolls

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Pew Center on the States

Approximately 24 million active voter registrations in the United States — one of every eight — are no longer valid or have significant inaccuracies and nearly a quarter of the eligible voting population is not registered, according to the Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives.

New research in the report Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient underscores the need for registration systems that use the latest technology to better maintain voter records, save money, and streamline processes.

The groundbreaking examination of the nation’s voter rolls, commissioned by Pew and undertaken by RTI International, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, also finds that:

  • Nearly two million deceased individuals are listed as active voters;

  • Approximately 2.75 million people have active registrations in more than one state;

  • About 12 million records have incorrect addresses, meaning either the voters moved, or errors in the information make it unlikely any mailings can reach them.

“It’s really only recently that we’ve had the technology to audit voter registration systems in a comprehensive way,” Toby Moore, who led the research on behalf of RTI, said.

To end what Moore labeled “the days of grossly inflated voter registration rolls,” election officials need access to better data and the tools to manage that data.

The reality is that Americans no longer live and vote in one location all their life. Our antiquated voter registration systems — based on paper, mail and data-entry by hand — cannot keep pace with America’s mobile public.

Mark Thomas, director of elections for the state of Utah, noted the specific difficultly of removing deceased voters from the rolls.

“If a voter passes away within our state, we have a good system for notification of death.”

But if a registered voter passes away out of state, “we just don’t get that notification,” Thomas said.

The outdated systems are also costly. Pew found that in 2008, Oregon’s state and local taxpayers spent $4.11 per active voter to process registrations. By contrast, Canada, which uses modern technology common in the private sector, spends less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations. 

Every inaccurate record could cost states. “It’s not free every time a voter receives a mailing from an election official,” Thomas said.

If his office can remove records that are no longer valid or correct address and name inaccuracies that might lead to returned mail, the taxpayers of Utah will have to pay for fewer mailings.

Proven solutions and technology are already in place in many government offices and the private sector that state election officials can employ to improve the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of their voter registration systems.

Over the past two years, election officials from several states have been working with Pew on plans to upgrade their voter registration systems using advanced technology to achieve greater accuracy of the rolls, increased savings, and improved processes. This new approach consists of three elements:

  • Comparing registration lists with other data sources, such as motor vehicle and National Change of Address records, to broaden the base of information used to update and verify voter rolls;

  • Implementing proven techniques and security protocols that use those data sources to better track and identify both inaccurate records that could be removed and eligible citizens who could be registered; and

  • Minimizing manual data entry by establishing ways voters can submit information online, which will result in lower costs and fewer errors.

Thomas believes Pew’s system would improve his state’s ability to clean its rolls. “Without being able to communicate with other states,” Thomas said, “list maintenance is limited.”

Moore cautioned that the report made no conclusion that bad records were leading to bad votes. He said the report exposed administrative problems and could not be read to indicate the existence of fraud.