State Says Its Voter Rosters in Good Shape - The Missourian: News

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State Says Its Voter Rosters in Good Shape

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Posted: Saturday, February 18, 2012 8:00 am | Updated: 3:12 pm, Thu Oct 24, 2013.

Despite a nationwide study released this week claiming one of every eight active voter registrations in the U.S. is invalid or inaccurate, state and local election officials say they do a good job keeping registration rosters up to date.

A report from the Pew Center on the States released this week said approximately 24 million active voter registrations in the U.S. - about 12.5 percent of all active voters - "are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate."

Ryan Hobart, communications director for the Missouri Secretary of State's office, said each state developed its own central voter database following the Help America Vote Act.

The act, which established minimum administrative standards for elections, was signed into law in October 2002.

"Over the past five to six years, the voter rolls in Missouri have been cleared up immensely," Hobart said. "It is safe to say they're the most up to date the state has ever had."

The system is in place in every Missouri county except Boone, said Debbie Door, Franklin County clerk and chief election authority.

Door said her office is constantly updating voter rolls.

"Each month we get a letter from the (Missouri) Department of Health telling us anyone who has passed away who would have been a Franklin County citizen," Door said. "We also check all of the local papers, read the obituaries, things like that.

"As soon as we know we have the right person, we remove them from the voter rolls immediately," she said.

Hobart said the state also gets a list of Social Security recipients who have passed away and are no longer receiving benefits.

Those individuals also are removed from voter rolls.

Deceased Voters

According to the Pew study, more than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as active voters.

The secretary of state's office also receives national change of address lists from the U.S. Postal Service and sends letters to people on that list reminding them to update their voter registration information.

According to the Pew Center, one in four voters interviewed on Election Day in 2008 assumed that election officials updated registrations automatically whenever someone filed change of address forms with the U.S. Postal Service and more than half of voters were unaware that they could revise registration information at motor vehicle agencies.

Door said the Missouri Centralized Voter Registration system automatically updates counties when an individual attempts to register to vote in another county.

"We have a good, statewide system that works fairly well. The problems come when staffs don't have time to update the system," Door said.

Population, Rolls Growing

The number of registered voters in the county can change rapidly from election to election. In 2000, there were 61,893 registered voters in Franklin County.

By 2004, that number jumped to 65,556. In 2008, the last year with a presidential election, the number was 67,505.

As of the Feb. 7 election, there were 68,206 registered Franklin County voters.

Door said about 7,000 of those voters are considered inactive - voters who cast a ballot at some point in time in Franklin County and have likely since moved, but have not replied to multiple letters and mailings asking to confirm their address.

Hobart said another issue is the system relies on voters to stay up to date.

"The burden to update this information is put on the voter. If someone moves to a new county, it's on them to update that information," he said.

During the 2008 election cycle, over half a million Missourians updated their name or address, according to the secretary of state's office.

During the same election cycle, 340,000 new voter registrations were processed by election authorities across Missouri.

According to a 2009 report from Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, some voters aren't aware of voter registration laws.

"Sometimes people don't realize, even up until Election Day, when they move, they need to update their information with local election authorities as well, even if they are still in the same county," Hobart said.

The Pew study said the issue isn't necessarily with voters updating their own information, but rather how election officials process it.

"The paper-based processes of most registration systems present several opportunities for error," according to the study. "In a typical system, election officials get information about a voter's identity, eligibility, address and contact information through a form completed at a public agency... or through an unregulated third-party voter registration group."

That information, including updates, is often entered manually by election offices.

Of the 24 million registration inaccuracies outlined in the report, 12 million contain an incorrect address.

Not Voter Fraud

Hobart said while data may not be updated as quickly as it could be in all instances, it isn't a cause for alarm.

"People sometimes may misconstrue someone who has forgotten to update their information or someone who hasn't been immediately removed from the rolls after they've died as potential voter fraud," he said, "but there's never been a case of voter fraud in Missouri of someone showing up at the poll and trying to vote as someone else."

Door said she recalled only a couple of issues with potential voter fraud - once when a voter cast a Missouri ballot but had a physical Illinois address on file and another when a voter cast an absentee ballot and still showed up at the polls to cast a regular ballot.

In Missouri, those submitting falsified voter registration applications can permanently lose their right to vote, be imprisoned for up to five years and be fined up to $10,000.

Door said she'd support even stricter punishments, as does the secretary of state's office.

The Pew Center said the number of inaccurate records is likely underestimated because not all states provided complete records to the nonprofit RTI International.

Pew teamed up with RTI to research voter registration accuracy.

Door said the study noted one key issue facing election officials on a national level - voters can register to vote in multiple states, such as if they have a home in Missouri and Florida, and not have to notify either state.

The Pew study found about 2.7 million people registered to vote in two states and more than 70,000 registered to vote in three or more states.

Door said improving the election process will help solve those issues.

"It works well when the people in power know what they're doing, but there are a lot of archaic laws in the process now," she said.

Door said she currently is looking into electronic poll books to make verifying voters easier and more efficient for poll workers.

The Pew Center outlined three steps to improve voter rolls, including establishing ways to submit information online to minimize manual data entry.

Door said she has heard of such systems being used in Canada, but said they haven't been adopted by local election authorities in the U.S.

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