October 6, 2011

Think tank study finds fraud risk in elections

A review of records reveals flaws in voter tracking, and late registrations add to the vulnerability, an official says.

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA - The Maine Heritage Policy Center says a study it conducted shows that Maine elections are susceptible to fraud.

Lance Dutson, the conservative think tank's chief executive officer, said Wednesday that although strides have been made over the years to improve the system's integrity, more should be done.

"We need to look at some way to check the citizenship of registered voters and we need to give municipal clerks the tools they need to efficiently ensure the integrity of our elections," he said during a news conference at the State House.

But he said he doesn't believe there has been widespread fraud in the state.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center is the only group that has filed paperwork to oppose an initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that would repeal a law passed in June to prohibit voter registration within two business days of an election.

Supporters of the law say late registrations make elections vulnerable to fraud because they leave clerks too little time to verify registrants' information. Maine has allowed same-day voter registration since 1973.

"I personally don't have a picture in my head of mass voter fraud occurring across the board in Maine," Dutson said. "But again, I think most Mainers would be shocked about the lack of structural safeguards against something like that happening."

The group based its conclusions on a review of various state records, some dating back to 1960.

It says its study revealed that in three of the last 10 general elections, the number of registered voters in the state exceeded the number of voting-age Mainers. All three of those elections happened before 2005, when the state implemented a Central Voter Registry.

Dutson said the Secretary of State's Office has done extensive work in recent years to cut down on the problem. One reason for it could be that some people don't ask to have their names removed from voting rolls when they move from one community to another.

Another cause for concern, Dutson said, is that the survey showed 178,000 of 972,000 voters had registered on Jan. 1, 1850. Dutson said that was a date used by the Secretary of State's Office to indicate registrations that lacked data.

Other findings showed that nearly 1,500 people were listed as 211 years old, and about 2,400 people were listed with birth dates before 1900.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, while acknowledging that human errors occur in a system with "a big human component," said many of the findings are the results of defaults in the system that were triggered by incomplete information.

She noted that the 1,452 voters who were listed as 211 years old, due to a default in the system, actually represents a decrease from about 5,000 as the registration system's accuracy has improved.

She said the report does show that "it is important (for clerks) to take as much time as they need with every application."

Dutson said same-day registration is "a convenience we should aspire to sustain," but not without precautions -- namely requiring photo identification at the polls. A bill to make that a requirement will be taken up by the Legislature in the session that starts in January.

David Farmer, spokesman for the Yes on 1/Protect Maine Votes campaign, which seeks to preserve same-day registration, dismissed the Maine Heritage Policy Center's findings.

"It sounds like, again, they are backing away from the notion of same-day registration and they want to talk about voter lists and they want to talk about photo ID -- but those issues are not on the ballot," he said.

Dutson rebutted arguments by the Yes on 1 coalition that voters who are elderly, disabled or working multiple jobs would be disproportionately affected by the elimination of same-day registration.

(Continued on page 2)

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