Is This John Hancock Eligible to Vote? Is He Even Alive?

A version of this post appeared as an op-ed in The Oregonian on Oct. 29.

Ten years ago Oregon became the first state to vote exclusively by mail. How is it working? Cascade Policy Institute commissioned a study of registered voters in Oregon. We compared the Social Security Master Death List to the Oregon Voter Registration List. We matched first and last names with dates of birth and last known Oregon zip codes. We excluded any duplicate names and any questionable results.

We found 6,142 people on the voter rolls who were reported as being deceased. 4,033 had died in 2006 or before, 2,130 in 2004 or before, 1,210 in 2002 or before, and 659 had passed away before 2000. Some of the names on the list appeared to have died well over a decade ago.

We shared our findings with the Oregon State Elections Division, which promptly went to work investigating our list. They found that 1,144 were active names and were mailed ballots this month. They called 37 (or 3%) of those names and determined that 16 were alive and 21 were deceased. The Elections Division then concluded that 650 dead voters may have been mailed ballots; however, they could not know if any of the 16 were individuals who had registered fraudulently as a dead person.

Cascade’s only motivation for conducting this survey is to help clean up what is obviously sloppy record keeping by the state. The Secretary of State’s defensive reaction has created even more concern. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury said Cascade is trying to throw dirty water on the election and that mail-in balloting is more secure than voting in person. Mr. Bradbury is “dead” wrong. In Indiana alone, ACORN was accused of registering hundreds of dead people. In that state, voters have to show up to vote with ID, while in Oregon they just need to mail in the ballot with the same signature that they put on the bogus registration card.

That signature match is a key component of the voting process in Oregon. According to Michelle Cole’s Oregonian article (October 26, 2008), “those that don’t match get a letter with a new registration card asking them to complete and return the new card.” Shouldn’t that be investigated, instead of supplying a way for a person potentially to cast a fraudulent ballot? Anyone can register to vote in Oregon, even if no ID is presented, and get a voter ID card.

Cascade implores the state to follow up and track the ballots mailed to persons known to be deceased. Then, if any of them are cast, the state should take appropriate legal action.

Mr. Bradbury is portraying Cascade as being alarmist, but all we have done is to provide his office with a list of people who may not belong on the voter rolls. It is obvious that until Cascade brought this matter to his attention the Elections Division did not ever crosscheck the Social Security Master Death List against the Oregon Voter Registration List.

Perhaps it’s time Oregon took another look at its registration process.

Jeff Alan is Chief Investigator at Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan free market research center based in Portland, Oregon.