[StBernard] Florida voting rolls contain dead people, duplicates, ineligible felons

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Oct 30 08:34:14 EDT 2008

South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Florida voting rolls contain dead people, duplicates, ineligible felons
Multiple registrations. Dead people. A growing number of felons. A Sun
Sentinel investigation finds more problems with our voting rolls.
By Peter Franceschina, Sally Kestin, John Maines, Megan O'Matz and Dana

October 29, 2008

Mattie Lee Blitch has been dead 23 years but she's still registered to vote
in Palm Beach County.

Recent college graduate Brett Ackerman is registered three times in two

And convicted felon Joseph Muro just signed up to vote - from a state mental
institution for the criminally insane.

With balloting well under way in the general election, the Sun Sentinel
found more than 65,000 ineligible and duplicate voters on Florida's
registration rolls.

That includes at least 600 dead people, 32,000 voters registered more than
once and a growing number of convicted felons - now more than 33,000 - who
by law should not be allowed to cast ballots.

Political analysts say the potential for widespread fraud in the names of
dead or duplicate voters is low, although dead voters did play a role in the
1997 Miami mayor's race. Ineligible felons, however, could influence a close
election in a state that decided the 2000 presidential race by 537 votes.

Florida is not alone with its sloppy registrations, despite a federal law
requiring states to keep accurate voter rolls. The Help America Vote Act
required states to develop voter registration databases "largely in response
to Florida in 2000 because, really, a good registration roll is the basis of
a good election," said Dan Seligson, editor of electionline .org, operated
by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

Florida has spent more than $22 million on its voter database, launched in
2006. The state Division of Elections is responsible for identifying
duplicate and ineligible voters, and the counties are supposed to remove
them. Elections officials at both levels acknowledge problems but blame each

They say massive voter-registration drives in a historic election have left
little time to clean up the rolls. But the Sun Sentinel found officials make
scant headway even in non-election lulls, with many ineligible voters
remaining on the rolls for years.

Counties also handle removals in vastly different ways, with some purging
thousands of voters each year and others removing only a few, records show.

"I think Florida has always presented, or at least since 2000, an
environment that is ripe for lawsuits, and this certainly doesn't do
anything to diminish that," Seligson said.

Felon voter surge
In the final five weeks before voter registration closed Oct. 6, Florida
added more than 2,600 ineligible felons to the rolls.

That's on top of the more than 30,700 the Sun Sentinel previously identified
as of the end of August.

In Florida, felons can vote only after their rights have been restored
through clemency. The newspaper found the state checks felons' criminal
histories and clemency status only after they register and had a backlog of
108,000 still to be reviewed.

At the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, a psychiatric lockup for
pedophiles and rapists, seven men registered in 2004 and remain on the voter

"We have 100 percent convicted felons who are also sex offenders, so nobody
should be eligible," said Timothy Budz, center administrator.

Among the recently registered ineligible felons are Joseph Muro and another
patient at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee, home to people found
mentally incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Another man signed up three days after being released from prison in Palm
Beach County.

One new felon voter listed a West Palm Beach Catholic charity for the
homeless as his address. Among the crimes on his record: voter fraud.

Long dead
Mary Agnes Belden was surprised to learn her mother, Mattie Lee Blitch, is
still registered to vote in Florida. The elementary school teacher always
was an avid voter - before her death in Jacksonville in April 1985.

"I don't know why she would be [still registered] after all this time," said
Belden, of Buford, Ga.

The state identifies dead voters through death certificates filed in Florida
but has missed hundreds, often because they died in other states.

Two Broward County voters are still on the rolls eight years after they
died, one while on vacation in Colorado and another in a California nursing

Some elections supervisors, including Mark Andersen of Bay County in the
Panhandle, wait for official word from the state before removing a dead
voter, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. "I could be standing at
someone's funeral, and I am not going to come in and remove somebody," he

Double trouble
Brett Ackerman, 22, moved and changed his party affiliation after he first
registered to vote in 2004. Instead of updating his record, elections
officials issued him three registrations, two in Boynton Beach and the other
in Gainesville, where he attended the University of Florida.

"If people can have multiple voting addresses, they can abuse the system,"
said Ackerman, who now lives in New York. "That is just wrong on so many

A Barack Obama supporter, Ackerman said he plans to return to Florida and
cast a ballot. "Just one vote, though," he said.

Duplicates are supposed to be weeded out on the front end when voters change
their registrations. But thousands slip through as elections workers make
data entry errors or don't check for previous records.

"It's sloppily done, and it's done in haste," said Pat Hollarn, elections
supervisor in Okaloosa County in the Panhandle.

Among the duplicates are thousands of mostly women voters with two
registrations at the same address under different last names. Elections
supervisors say they likely married or divorced.

The state is unlikely to catch those duplicates; it looks only for voters
with the same last name.

An untold number of Florida's 1.8 million non-citizens are on the voting
rolls. Non-citizens are not permitted to vote, but Florida has no way of
checking citizenship.

Florida "does not have access to any federal database, if any exists, with
the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the Department of Homeland
Security," said Jennifer Krell Davis, spokeswoman for the state Elections

Local election officials can - and do - remove non-citizens upon receiving
"information from whatever reliable source," Krell Davis said.

But the numbers vary widely from county to county.

Broward has taken off 158 since 2006; Palm Beach County only 13.

In Miami-Dade County, where more than 623,000 people are not U.S. citizens,
local elections officials removed 97 during that two-year period.

Hillsborough County, with half a million fewer non-citizens, removed nearly
three times as many: 290.

Fraud risk
How much of a role Florida's problematic registrations will play in the
election remains to be seen. Once non-citizens and ineligible felons are
added to the rolls, elections officials have no way of preventing them from

Casting a ballot in the name of a dead person would be more difficult. Such
a voter would have to present a photo ID with the name of the deceased and a
signature that matches the registration record.

It is possible for duplicate registrants to cast more than one ballot using
different registrations, and poll workers have no way of catching them.

"I have my doubts that there will be any attempt to misuse the mistakes,"
said Roy Saltman, of Columbia, Md., an elections consultant and author on
voting technology. "Somebody would have to deliberately want to."

Sally Kestin can be reached at skestin at sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4510.

Copyright C 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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