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55,000 Illegal Entries Scrubbed From State Voter Database

May 12, 2006
By Associated Press
KOMO 4 News

OLYMPIA, WA - About 55,000 voter registrations have been scrubbed from the state's new elections database after investigators found duplicate entries and dead voters on the rolls, Secretary of State Sam Reed said Friday.

The purge of illegal registrations is the result of months of work by county and state elections officials, who began combing the new statewide voter database after its launch in January.

Reed, the state's top elections officer, said the invalid registrations included 35,445 duplicate records and 19,579 entries for dead people.

But probes of the records found very few cases of potential voter fraud. About 30 cases of possible double voting were forwarded to county officials for investigation, Reed said.

In most cases, he said, people moved and forgot to notify their local election offices - a common problem for voting regulators.

"They'll change their magazine subscriptions and they'll change a lot of other things, but they don't bother to contact their elections officials and say 'Cancel my registration,"' Reed said.

Officials also aren't aware of any cases of votes cast under the names of deceased people, Reed spokeswoman Trova Heffernan said. Election officials simply aren't notified of the deaths.

Friday's announcement marks the largest purge of invalid voter records under the new database, which replaced 39 separate county voter lists. The project was paid for with federal money and developed by software experts from state government and Microsoft Corp.

Critics of the state's election system said Reed still had not done enough to ensure integrity in the voter rolls.

Jonathan Bechtle, director of the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Voter Integrity Project, said Reed also needs to focus on clearing non-citizens and federal felons from the system.

"It's an indicator of the systematic problems, and it's not going to be solved by a couple of months of checking. It has to have some real leadership to change how the system works," Bechtle said.

A group called Grassroots Washington, which is affiliated with the Freedom Foundation, is pushing an initiative that would force all voters to reregister after proving they are U.S. citizens.

Reed said his office is investigating about 900 cases of suspected illegally registered felons, who were identified by comparing voting records with state prison rosters.

Convicted felons are not eligible to vote in Washington until their sentences have been completed and their voting rights formally restored through a legal process.

The state has postponed efforts to boot other potential felon voters from the rolls while Attorney General Rob McKenna appeals a King County judge's ruling that released felons can't be kept from voting simply because of unpaid fines and fees.

Reed said the state will continue to seek federal felon records and lists of registered aliens to check against the database.

"Clearly, there is no such list as a list of illegal aliens, so we can't run against that," he said.

The issue of illegal votes has been major political battleground since the state's historically close 2004 governor's race, in which Gov. Chris Gregoire was declared the winner - by 129 votes - after a third statewide ballot count.

The result was challenged, and Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges of Wenatchee ruled in June 2005 that 1,678 illegal votes were cast in the election, out of 2.9 million. But Bridges said there was no evidence of how those illegal voters marked their ballots.

Republican challenger Dino Rossi declined to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

The statewide voter database was released publicly in February. It contains all the state's nearly 3.8 million voters - including more than 400,000 inactive voters. It is the first consolidated list of registered voters from the state's 39 counties.

The system brings the state into compliance with the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, which required better voting systems, improved voter access and statewide voter registration lists.

The legislation was passed by Congress two years after the 2000 elections exposed numerous problems with voting systems across the country.



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