Counties dispute group’s claim of federal voter registration violations
by Charli Engelhorn
contributing writer
Sep 13, 2012 | 2085 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A national election watchdog has notified six Utah counties, including Grand, that they may be violating a section of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) that requires voter registration rolls be kept up-to-date and ineligible voters be removed.

According to True the Vote, a Texas-based nonpartisan election integrity watchdog, Grand, Daggett, Summit, Rich, Carbon, and San Juan counties currently maintain voter registration numbers that total more than 100 percent of the total eligible voters in those counties, based on the most current records available.

“It’s simply unacceptable for any county to have more voters on its roll than people who are alive and eligible to vote,” Catherine Engelbrecht, president of Truth the Vote, said in a news release last month. “Failing to maintain accurate voter registration records is a flagrant violation of... the NVRA.”

But officials with the Utah Lt. Governor’s office said the group is using incorrect data to reach that conclusion.

“The problem is that they were not comparing apples to apples. They were comparing a new census with an old list,” said Mark Thomas, director of elections for the Utah Lt. Governor’s office, which oversees elections in the state. “They took the numbers from the last census and compared them to information from a 2008 voter registration roll.”

Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll said keeping the records up to date is not as simple as Truth the Vote is accusing.

“If registered voters have not shown up for four years, we have to list them as inactive and send out a notice. Then you have to wait for another four years before you can take them off of the roll,” said Carroll. “We actively work on the voter rolls to try to keep them down, but sometimes our hands are tied.”

Thomas said it is no surprise that voter rolls may be inaccurate because of the federally mandated laws regarding deleting voters from the system. Along with the eight-year grace period for removing an inactive voter, he said deaths of registered voters in other states can prove difficult in retrieving death certificates, thus making it impossible to remove those names from the roll.

“I think the clerks are doing a much better job now that they have moved to an electronic voter registration system, but they have to let the cycle run its course according to federal law,” Thomas said. “If they don’t receive notification, people have to stay on the list.”

Summit County Chief Deputy Clerk Ryan Cowley investigated the numbers he received in the notification from Truth the Vote and said he found inaccuracies in the group’s collection methods.

“Comparing two-year-old numbers with the 2010 census skewed their numbers. When we compared our current voter registration with the 2010 census, we came out below the number of eligible voters in the county,” Cowley said.

Cowley said the 2010 census showed approximately 27,000 eligible voters in Summit County. However, voter registration during the 2008 presidential election was much higher than non-election years, with the number reaching above 27,000. Comparing those numbers would show a discrepancy between eligible voters and those registered. However, a significant decrease in voter registration was seen in the last four years, and currently there are 24,832 voters, a number far below those eligible, according to Cowley. Carroll said Grand County’s numbers for the most recent registration roll were also below the census data.

“Voter suppression is a big deal, and there are a lot of laws to protect who can be taken off. It is much easier to register to vote than to remove people from the list,” Cowley said. “But people have to have ID in order to vote, so there are systems in place to protect the election process.”

In fact, even for voters using the absentee ballot method, their signature on their ballot must match the signature on their registration, according to Thomas.

“There isn’t much to it than trying to keep a clean list while still being within the law. I think the cleaner the list, the less susceptible you are to fraud, but there really isn’t much to it.”

Attempts to reach a representative from Truth the Vote concerning their data collection methods and consequences to the counties went unanswered.

Thomas said Utah is joining a number of other states on a project called Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). Over the last four years, the county clerks have been working to put this system in place, allowing for faster notification between states when voters register with similar names and social security numbers as those registered elsewhere or when person’s applying for a driver’s license in one state share similar information to a registered voter in another.

“That type of information will certainly help clean up the rolls and make it happen quicker,” Thomas said. “It’s not a perfect system, but it is something we are working on.”

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