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I-Team Investigates: Dead people on voting rolls

July 31, 2012 3:25:20 PM PDT
The ABC11 I-Team has uncovered dead people still registered to vote in North Carolina.

It's up to counties to take their names off the voter rolls, but it can take years for that to happen.

Is enough being done to make sure voter registration lists are current?

To get a name off the voter rolls a county has to prove someone is really dead.

That's easier said than done and the reason for that exposes potential cracks in the system.

"I was tremendously hurt," said widow Vicki Smith.

Two days ago, Smith got a letter in the mail from the Wake County Board of Elections asking if her husband, James Smith, was dead. 

"It's been 17-18 months," said Smith. "If this were going to happen, it should have happened more quickly in my opinion."

Smith got the letter because last Thursday an activist who heads up the Voter Integrity Project, walked into the Wake County Board of Elections with the names of more than 300 people he believed were dead but still on the rolls. James Smith was one of those names.

"We'll match with DHHS," said Gary Sims with the Wake County Board of Elections.

Wake elections officials said there are two ways they verify a death.  A family member tells them or they check a monthly list of recent deaths put out by the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's a matter of making sure we have an exact data match," said Sims.

By law, if they don't have an exact match, including a full name, date of birth, and address, by law, they can't remove a name. However, Smith said they should have had all that. After her husband died, she gave them James' death certificate.

"My understanding was the things that needed to take place had taken place," said Smith.

It's still unclear why James Smith was on the rolls 17 months after he died.  

Most likely, the county was missing a piece information and couldn't match his name with that list from DHHS.  In Wake County alone, there are 17 James D. Smiths registered to vote.  

So why didn't officials look for that death certificate before mailing out the letter? County officials told ABC11 that's not protocol, and it's not in the state's official guidelines.

State election officials, however, said counties can cross reference death certificates as highlighted in a memo sent out last week.

It's all just noise, though, to Smith -- excuses for a painful letter being sent out when she says there could be, and should be a better way.

"Somebody needs to show them the way," she said.

County officials told ABC11 that because of that state memo they are changing their protocol and now checking for death certificates.

What won't change is the need for an exact match before taking someone off the rolls, which is meant to protect the rights of living voters.

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