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300,000 Duplicate Colorado Voters?

Watchdog.org reported on Wednesday that a multi-state database of voter registration information from Secretaries of State shows that as many as 300,000 Coloradans may also be registered to vote in other states.  That comes to just over 1 in 12 registered Colorado voters, and it raises additional questions about the difficulty of ensuring clean voter rolls in the light of recent loosening of the rules, up to and including same-day voter registration without adequate identification.

Known as the Interstate Cross-Check (or simply, the “Crosscheck”), the database is coordinated by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.   Begun in 2005 with just four states, the Cross-check has grown to include 28 states, but it doesn’t even include the most populous states of California, Texas, Florida, and New York.  Of the states included, Arizona, Washington, Michigan, and Georgia have the largest number of potential duplicate registrants with Colorado.  Arizona alone has nearly 30,000.  The Cross-check also found 10 duplicate voter IDs and 729 duplicate voter rows within Colorado.

The Cross-check has in past years yielded cases of  double-voting referred for prosecution.  Andrew Cole of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office estimated the number to be about a dozen over the last several election cycles.

“We use the cross-check every election, to check for voting in places where the person is not a resident, or voting twice in the same election,” said Cole. “The problem we have is that we need the FBI or the US Attorney to investigate and prosecute these things, and they’re often reluctant to do that. It’s also difficult to prove, since ballots should be anonymous. Because it’s so hard to prove, which is why it’s important not to have people registered in more than one place.”

Nevertheless, the actual state of affairs may be far less daunting.

While Colorado relies on the Cross-check to detect double voting, it does not rely on it to detect duplicate registrations.  Kansas doesn’t check the data for accuracy, and even matches of names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers aren’t guarantees of duplicate registrations.  “There’s a lot of bad data,” said Rich Coolidge, also of the Secretary of State’s office.  “People will enter wrong SSNs, even wrong birthdays, it may get copied wrong from the form, or even transposed from a neighboring line.  Arizona in particular was giving credit for matches that didn’t turn out to be true.”

Coolidge stated that for Colorado to declare a match, name, date of birth, and Social Security number all needed to match.  He declined to offer an estimate of how many duplicate voters there actually are.

For registrations, Colorado instead uses ERIC, the Electronic Information Registration Center, put together by the Pew Foundation.  That database uses other sources, such as death and DMV records, and the National Change of Address database.

Federal law prevents the Secretary of State from simply removing registrants based on duplicate data, Cole said.  “Voters may have moved, and simply not know that they’re registered in two places.  We reach out to them and ask them to remove their own registration.  We’ve made that easy do with a “Withdraw My Registration” link right there on our web page.”  County clerks will also deactivate voters for returned ballots.

Personal experience, however, says that the registration lists from the Denver County Clerk – the gold standard of registration lists – are woefully tarnished when it comes to apartment complexes.  Old residents are still registered there; new registrants can register right up until Election Day at this point, and ballots for old residents won’t be returned, since the Post Office still has them on file.   And in 2008, the ACLU successfully sued to stop then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman from clearing the rolls of dead voters and those who had moved.

Reports of duplicate registrations and duplicate ballots made news in several states this spring.  North Carolina used the Cross-check to detect hundreds of possible cases of double-voting in 2012.  An independent analysis of Virginia’s voter rolls found over 300,000 Virginia voters registered in other states, 44,000 of those on neighboring Maryland.

Joshua Sharf

Joshua is co-editor of Watchdog Wire - Colorado. Contact him at Colorado@WatchdogWire.com to learn how to get involved with citizen journalism in the Boulder State. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuasharf

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