September 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm
By Glynis Kazanjian
At least two dead voters showed up to vote at least once in a Maryland general election between 2004 and 2008, according to a voter registration watchdog group that has reviewed thousands of voter records this year, 1% of the rolls in the largest counties.
The group – Election Integrity Maryland (EIM) – filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections Aug. 30. The group said it found several potential dead voters, voters who registered after they had died and a living Maryland resident who has been voting twice in elections for years.
According to their research, voter registration numbers for Montgomery County resident Rufus Harris of Silver Spring, who died in 2002, was used to cast an absentee ballot in the 2008 general election. Prince George’s County resident George T. Zell of Hyattsville, who died in July 2004, cast a vote in the 2004 general election. Records also indicated that Harris became registered as a voter on Sept. 4, 2008, six years after his death.
The group also identified two deceased people who were registered to vote after their deaths. James Proctor of Laurel died in 1988 and became registered in 1992, and Virginia Ann Given of Upper Marlboro, who died in 1991, also became registered in 1992. Both names remain on the Maryland rolls today as “inactive” voters, although neither have cast a vote under their new voter registration numbers, according to data provided by EIM.
Mary Dowling, 67, who currently resides in a nursing home in Timonium, has two voter registration numbers. The latest voting records that are available show Dowling has been voting twice in almost every even-year election since 2002, in both the general and the primary. Ten out of 16 times Dowling voted by absentee ballot.
The last election Dowling said she remembered voting in was the 2006 gubernatorial election, when she said she voted for Republican candidate Robert Ehrlich. Beyond that, Dowling said she doesn’t believe she voted in either the 2008 or 2010 elections, or that she ever voter twice.
EIM used the website familysearch.org to verify death records. Election Integrity Maryland President Cathy Kelleher says it links to the Social Security death index. Data from Voter Vault, a U.S. voter database used by the Republican Party, was used to verify voting records.
According to State Board Voter Registration Director Mary Wagner, staff is currently investigating the inquiry. However, Wagner did not say when the inquiry may be resolved, nor would she comment on any names on the complaint that may have been eliminated.
It did appear, however, that some of the names on the complaint had been removed from official voter rolls. During a second review of the records, Kelleher said she found that some names had changed from “active” to “inactive,” and some of the duplicate registrations now had only one active registration record, implying they had been merged.
“Availability of information had changed when I went back to review records from our Aug. 30 submission,” said Kelleher. “For some, only one record of the two was available.”
While the watchdog group was able to verify its own findings against official voting records, Kelleher said she is waiting for the state board’s final confirmation.
“Finding evidence that even one person that died voted after the date of their death is hugely concerning,” said Kelleher. “The question is how does this happen, how can we stop it? Interestingly, EIM has learned that there isn’t one person, one department or one agency who is charged with ‘looking for’ voter fraud. Small surprise that the standard line is that ‘There is no voter fraud in Maryland.’ If you don’t look for it, you won’t find it.”
If you don’t look for fraud, you won’t find it
“Since no one is looking from the State Board of Elections or even within the legislature, EIM continues to look for evidence of irregularities and fraud,” she said. “With what we have found in just about 1% of the total voter rolls in Maryland, we have only just begun.”
Election Integrity Maryland has become a thorn in the side to many election officials. It has reviewed over 35,000 voter registration files in Maryland and has filed 11,000 irregularity challenges this year with local election boards. The group incorporated in July 2011 and began its research operations last November. It has a team of over 125 researchers, and each county has a leader.
Kelleher, one of EIM’s founding members, became inspired to start a voter registration watchdog group after listening to former Acorn whistleblower Anita MonCrief speak about a voter fraud group – TRUEtheVOTE – at a national Tea Party Patriots meeting in 2010. The following year Kelleher and two colleagues attended a TRUEtheVOTE summit in Houston and came back to Maryland “set about putting our group together.”
To date, the group has researched 1% of Maryland’s registered voting population in five counties — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Wicomico. Its findings have revealed 1,500 deceased still on active voter registration rolls, nearly 700 duplicate voter registrations — many out of state — and several hundred voters who listed a vacant lot or business address as their residential address. Thousands were identified as having address inconsistencies.
Just scratched the surface
“Having just scratched the surface of Maryland voter registration research, we have found hundreds of duplicate registrations, some within the state of Maryland, others in both Maryland and in one other state,” said Catharine Trauernicht, vice president of Election Integrity Maryland. “We know the boards are looking into our research, but [we] have not been told specifically which of our irregularities cited have been, in fact, corrected.”
Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, Maryland’s two largest counties, have the largest numbers of inconsistencies so far.
In Prince George’s County alone, the group identified nearly 500 dead people still on active registration rolls. Several hundred voters were found to be registered twice – primarily in Maryland and another state, and 400 voters listed vacant lots or businesses as their residential addresses.
Election officials questioned some of the research methods used by Election Integrity such as newspaper obituary notices, which is an unacceptable form of death verification under state law, and Facebook, which Election Integrity said they stopped using “long ago.”
But that didn’t stop the Prince George’s election board from sending out over 750 verification letters based on the group’s findings. State law requires local election boards verify death reports when they are received “in the form of an obituary or other reliable report.” The state board generally confirms its information from state death certificates provided by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“We are aware that the Board of Elections will not recognize some of our sources,” said Kelleher. “Our job however is not to do their job. We use publicly available data to point them to areas they should be verifying. Only the BOE and the Maryland attorney general can remove anyone from the rolls. We just want them to do the job they are paid for at the board of elections, protect our voting system from fraud.”
Research methods have evolved
Kelleher pointed out that research methods for her group have evolved since their work began last November. Sites they use such as Tributes.com and familysearch.org both pull data from the Social Security Death Index, she said.
“My volunteers are using sites that require membership such as beenverified.com,” Kelleher said. “But not all of my volunteers can afford its $97 per year membership fee. The information is current and correct.”
In a written response to Election Integrity, the Prince George’s board indicated the balance of inquiries, about 2,300 – most of which were address related – would be updated after sample ballots are mailed out, which is about 10 days prior to a major election.
Part of the local election boards’ methodology for verifying addresses is based on whether or not the sample ballot is returned by the U.S. Postal Service for a bad address.
Montgomery County board works on EIM challenges
In Montgomery County, Election Integrity challenged over 4,000 voter records in two different submissions, the first in February and the second in July. There was a large number of deceased in the first batch, the vast majority coming from nursing home addresses, Kelleher said.
The second submission produced a report from the Montgomery County election board which concluded that 26% of its 1,115 challenges were found to be associated with nursing homes. As a result, election board staff was assigned to address “nursing home and assisted living facility residents.”
“The majority of submitted names of voters identified as ‘challenged’ by Election Integrity are individuals who are currently classified as inactive voters on the Maryland State Voter registry,” Montgomery County Election Board spokeswoman Marjorie Roher wrote in a Sept. 21 email. “The term ‘inactive’ means that the Board of Elections mailed an official document to the voter and it was returned to the Board.”
If a voter with an “inactive” status does not vote in two federal elections, they are supposed to be changed to “cancelled.” Kelleher said she suspects that many of the “inactive” voters are dead.
MoCo responds with report
An excerpt from the Montgomery County report reads: “The absentee staff will handle all nursing home and assisted living facility residents in accordance to State Board of Elections regulations. Board of Elections staff will permit the facility to verify the names of person assigned to that address and confirm if they are still in residence. The process for removal will be followed in accordance to State Board regulations. If the facility advises the Board the person is deceased, we have attempted to cross reference with the Dept. of Health records to confirm. These records are still in the process of verification. Otherwise we will follow regulations.”
However, what wasn’t made clear by the Montgomery County election board was what, if anything, was done to rectify names that shouldn’t appear on voter rolls for the Nov. 6 election.
Election Integrity submitted its second group of findings to the Montgomery County election board on July 16, three weeks prior to a 90-day voter registration list maintenance moratorium imposed by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
But neither the Montgomery County board or the state board would confirm that any verification mailings were sent out prior to the federal cut-off.
Status of most names will wait till after the election
“The group used a listing service that is not permitted by State Board of Maryland regulations,” Roher wrote of the July submissions in a Sept. 21 email to MarylandReporter.com. “The Board will follow the SBE regulation to follow up on a report of the death of a registered voter. This process requires that a notice shall be mailed and the Board staff will complete during the confirmation mailing process after the Nov. 6 election.”
Roher did confirm that 31 names identified in the group’s “deceased” category submission had already been removed prior to receiving EIM’s submission, and that 16 additional individuals had been confirmed as deceased, but Roher didn’t say if the 16 names had been removed.
Trauernicht inquired about any actions taken by the board related to EIM’s submission. On Sep 13, 2012, Election Director Margaret Jurgensen wrote in an email to Trauernicht:
“The Montgomery County Board of Elections staff checked each name submitted on lists given in February and July by the Election Integrity Maryland. This was reported in the February and September Board meetings. The staff of the Board of Elections will compare the submitted list of names to the returned sample ballots in confirmation mailing process after the General Election in accordance to the regulations of the State Board of Elections. There will be no further actions or review made from either list of names submitted until the Board begins the confirmation mailing process after the general election.”
Kelleher and her research partners dedicate much of their days to finding fraudulent voter registration information. Just last week she concluded a report which shows 42 dead people on the state’s active voter rolls – all with the same nursing home address in Montgomery County, but she hasn’t submitted those names yet.
Of the three examples Kelleher provided, two had died within 6 months of being registered and one shortly after a year.