Dogs, Dead People Get Voter Forms from Nonprofit

Mike Baker, Seattle Times, July 13, 2012

The voter registration form arrived in the mail last month with some key information already filled in: Rosie Charlston’s name was complete, as was her Seattle address.

Problem is, Rosie was a black lab who died in 1998.

A group called the Voter Participation Center has touted the distribution of some 5 million registration forms in recent weeks, targeting Democratic-leaning voting blocs such as unmarried women, blacks, Latinos and young adults.

But residents and election administrators around the country also have reported a series of bizarre and questionable mailings addressed to animals, dead people, noncitizens and people already registered to vote.

Brenda Charlston wasn’t the only person to get documents for her pet: A Virginia man said similar documents arrived for his dead dog, Mozart, while a woman in the state got forms for her cat, Scampers.

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The group at the root of the questionable mailings—the Voter Participation Center—acknowledges that the databases it uses to contact possible voters are imperfect because they are developed from commercially collected information. The group also says it expects people who receive misdirected mail to simply throw it away.

Several election officials said they believed the voter registration systems were secure enough to catch people who might improperly submit the misdirected documents, since registrants typically have to furnish ID and election managers use databases—such as death records—to see if someone should be disallowed.

But administrators in New Mexico, a potential swing state in the presidential race, warned that ineligible voters who complete the documents could make it onto the rolls.

New Mexico is one of two states in which noncitizens can qualify for a driver’s license by simply proving residency—not necessarily legal residency—and state elections officials have no way of verifying the legal status of those who file registration documents.

Ken Ortiz, the chief of staff at the New Mexico secretary of state’s office, said some noncitizens have contacted the state asking why they received the forms when they’d previously been told that they could not vote.

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The Voter Participation Center works with a vendor that has access to multiple commercial databases that could include people who subscribe to magazines or junk mail using names of their pet, said Page Gardner, the group’s president. She said the nonprofit tries its best to target only eligible and unregistered voters but that some other names inevitably get on the final list.

“Is it a perfect process? No,” Gardner said. Ultimately, she said they rely on the integrity of people and the security of the system and notes that the same forms are available to anyone at county offices or on the Internet.

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