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Concerns voiced over state’s election integrity

Less than a week before election day, watchdog groups are expressing concern about how the structure of voter registration may open the door for electoral manipulation.

Linda Paine, co-founder of the Election Integrity Project, a statewide watchdog organization, said California is the only state in the U.S. not to maintain a consolidated statewide database of voter information.

In fact, the California Secretary of State has been working since 2005 to implement VoteCal to bring the state into compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, which mandates states maintain a single, uniform statewide voter registration list, according to the Secretary of State website.



However, with the existing Calvoter system, the election official of each of the 58 counties maintains voter files separately, according to the SOS website. Additions, changes and deletions of voter information identified by the Calvoter system cannot be applied directly to the Calvoter database. Instead, the data must be overwritten by county elections officials, the website states.

“County data cannot be directly updated from the state data; any changes or corrections made to the state data will be overwritten by county updates,” the website states.




There are two major problems with the system as it exists, Paine said.

People are occasionally registered simultaneously in two counties, and there is no easy way to cross-check registration information and eliminate duplications, Paine said. Second, when individuals die, there is no uniform manner in which to remove the deceased from the voter rolls, as death certificates are recorded by county coroners, Paine said.

“The process has become so lax it’s made it possible to manipulate the system,” she said.

Barry Pruett, a Nevada County attorney who ran and lost to current Clerk-Recorder Greg Diaz in 2010, said he conducted an investigation that found 31 deceased individuals who were still on the county voter rolls as registered voters. Pruett said he entered the ages of individuals registered as voters in Nevada County and cross-checked the oldest residents with the Social Security death index to arrive at the number.

“One of them has been on the rolls since 2001,” Pruett said. “That’s 11 years ago.”

Additionally, Pruett said he found that two of the 31 individuals he identified had actually cast votes since they were reported as deceased.

Assistant Clerk-Recorder Gail Smith said that one of the votes is attributable to a clerical mistake, where an election worker scanned the wrong barcode.

“Our office has reviewed and responded to the allegations that deceased citizens have been voting,” Smith said.

“Based upon our investigation, we know that 30 out of the 31 names have not cast votes since their death. The other name
has been investigated through the statewide death record database, and we have not located a
death certificate for that individual.”

Pruett said the individual in question died in Kentucky, which is why the elections office has been unable to correct the voter records. Pruett said he is not unduly criticizing the county elections office but shedding
light on an issue he characterized as a statewide non-partisan problem that needs to be addressed.

“I’m not saying voter fraud is occurring. It’s likely just a mistake,” Pruett said. “But the more ballots you have floating out there, the more you open the door for potential fraud.”

Pruett said five of the 31 individuals he identified as deceased on the voter rolls died in Nevada County.

The elections office attempts to update its rolls on a “daily/monthly” basis, Smith said, by obtaining obituaries from the newspaper and checking them against the voter database. She said the office also receives a monthly report from Nevada County Health Department, along with a similar report from the California Secretary of State.

Smith said her department must be cautious when eliminating people from the voter rolls because people with identical names and/or birth dates could create identity confusion causing an individual to be prevented from casting their ballot if they are erroneously identified as deceased.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.


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