Jan 13, 2008
Kansas May Have About 190,000 Phantom
Summary. Many people who have
moved, and many people who have died, are still on the list of
registered voters in Kansas because a Federal law blocks removal of
such voters until they have missed two presidential elections -- if the
election office never finds out about a move or a death. Kansas
has no statewide uniform rule on how to deal with this, and each county
clerk or election commissioner is given latitude in maintaining the
county list of registered voters. Counties do not have the same
resources or procedures to deal with these problems in a uniform way, so
we have 105 different solutions right now.
A new computer system, ELVIS, was introduced by the Kansas Secretary of State in January 2006 to maintain the list of voters statewide in a more uniform way in compliance with Federal law. However, this system has not eliminated problems with "phantom voters" -- voters who really may not exist (e.g., they have moved out of state and likely should not be on the list of registered voters). There does not appear to be a consistent way dead voters are removed from the system. Unfortunately, counties do not have the resources to validate addresses, which can lead to voters at addresses where voters do not live. Several examples of voters registered at empty lots are shown from Wyandotte County as proof of this problem.
The Secretary of State seems unwilling to address data problems in the voter file sold to the public, and it's not clear whether the problems are in the data maintained by the counties, or in the process of creating the composite list by the Secretary of State's office. Only the problem with invalid ballot codes that explain voter history is addressed in this article. [Future articles may describe other data problems in detail if they are not addressed.]
Recommendations. The State of Kansas should consider a more uniform approach to how "inactive" voters are identified, and should consider a more uniform approach to how voters are removed from the voter rolls. 105 different ways to do this is not an acceptable system.
The State of Kansas should consider requiring a photo ID for all "inactive" voters, who have an unknown mailing addresses but show up to vote. Perhaps such "inactive" voters could be allowed to vote in state and national contests (to comply with Federal law), but why are "inactive" voters allowed to vote on state elected officials in various districts (like State Senate, State Rep, County Commissioner, School District) if they no longer live in those districts?
The Secretary of State should introduce a scoring system, which would measure how well the counties are doing their jobs in maintaining voter records. This scoring system should be made public. The Secretary of State should introduce regular validation checks on data fields in the voter file and provide feedback to counties about problems that should be fixed.
Details. During 2007 Kansas lost over 38,000 "active" voters and gained nearly 10,000 "inactive" voters, as shown in Table 1. What does this mean? (The terms "active" and "inactive" will be explained below.)
Federal law imposes certain restrictions on how States maintain their lists of registered voters. States could maintain separate lists of voters, one list for federal elections (U.S. President, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives), and a separate list for state elections. But like other states, Kansas, only maintains a single list of voters to comply with the federal requirements.
Voters can move and for a variety of reasons a local election board may not know about the move. Without proper documentation a voter has moved, the State may not remove a voter to comply with federal law. Over time, the number of the voters that have moved grows, and the election office cannot contact many voters by mail.
Many jurisdictions in Kansas regularly mail voter registration cards to voters, and ask the post office to notify them if the recipient has moved. Many registration cards are returned to the election offices, but because of federal law, these voters cannot be removed. In Kansas, most counties mark such voters as "inactive" if there is no known way to contact the voter by mail. The "active" voters are those that can be contacted by mail, and are not necessarily those that vote on a regular basis.
When voters are "inactive" and cannot receive a new voter registration card from the election office by mail, they may still vote if they show up at their polling place. An analysis of "inactive" voters in Johnson County from 2004 suggests about 1% of "inactive voters" show up for an August primary election, while about 10% of them show up for a November general election. Most "inactive" voters don't vote because they have moved and are possibly voting in another out-of-state jurisdiction. However, "inactive" voters who do vote may be voting for the "wrong" candidates such as State Rep, State Senator, and State Board of Education member. Without knowing the mailing address of an "inactive" voter, the election office cannot determine what contests are valid for such a voter.
State law in Kansas says the Secretary of State is responsible for maintaining the statewide voter list and for reporting election results. The list of registered voters is a public document and the can be purchased for $200 by filling out a Voter Registration Data Request Form. Unfortunately, unlike other states such as Missouri, this data file is provided with almost no documentation about how a data field is defined, or what constitutes a valid data field. In addition, there is no formal system for documenting or reporting data problems found in this data file. The Secretary of State defers most decisions on the contents of the data fields to the individual County Clerks or Election Commissioners.
Who uses this voter registration file?
Prior to Jan 2006, the Kansas voter file only contained voter history information for the last two election cycles, i.e., whether or not a voter had cast a ballot in the Aug and Nov elections over a four year period. Some counties if contacted directly provided more voter history information than what was provided in the statewide file.
ELVIS. Driven by the Federal Helping America Vote Act (HAVA, Public Law 107-252), Kansas implemented a new ELection Voter Information System (ELVIS) in Jan 2006. For the first time, all County Clerks and Election Commissioners used the same system for maintaining the list of voters in Kansas. This was a big change for all the offices involved and the 2006 elections ran smoothly using this new system. But even with the same system, counties are given wide latitude on how data fields are entered and more consistency is desirable.
Inactive Voters. Map 1 (below) shows the percentage of "inactive" voters in each county. The color scale shows that counties have a wide range in inactive voters, from nearly 0% "inactive" voters to as many as 31.3% "inactive" voters. Statewide Kansas has nearly 10% of voters "inactive" and without valid mailing addresses. Would we buy any product if 10% of them were bad? Would we accept services from a doctor, nurse, attorney, ..., if 10% of them were flawed?
Why do we accept such a high rate of "inactive" voters, who have no known mailing addresses, if we think our voting process has any integrity? Why can anyone show up at a voting precinct, claim to have the name of an "inactive" voter, and vote, without some safeguard in place to prevent this kind of voter fraud? Why don't we require "inactive" voters to show a valid photo ID to protect the integrity of our elections?
1. Inactive Voters in Kansas by County
See Summary of Registered Voters in Kansas, Nov 2007, for details.
[Note about color scale: The data are broken into quartiles, each 25% of the range. The "High" category is really part of Quartile 4, but these unusually high values would have been shown as outliers in a boxplot.]
Higher values of "inactive" voters could reflect a transient society, where many people move in and move out, which makes sense for Geary (GE) County where military personnel at Ft. Riley may be moving in and out all the time. But what explains the high percentage of "inactive" voters in Crawford (CR), Sumner (SU), and Woodson (WO) counties? Wyandotte (WY) County narrowly missed the "high" category, and may not be as proactive as other counties in identifying "inactive" voters. [See below for problems with voters at empty lots in Wyandotte County.] Johnson (JO) County may have a high percentage because of how transient the county is.
Voter History. The voter file from the Secretary of State shows the voter history for each voter for up to the last 10 ballots cast. The ballot codes show the year and election type (such as Aug primary or Nov general) a voter last cast a ballot.
Voters can be removed from the voting rolls if they have missed the last two presidential -- and all other -- elections. What does the current voter history show about Kansas voters? Map 2 (below) shows the number of voters by county who have not voted since 1999 in any election.
2. Voters Not Casting Ballots Since 1999 by County
See Summary of Registered Voters in Kansas, Nov 2007, for details.
The voter overlap between Map 1 and Map 2 is 16,380 voters. That is, 16,380 voters are both "inactive" and have not voted since 1999. This means there are 154,221 + 53,372 – 16,380 = 191,213 possible “phantom" voters on the list of Kansas registered voters, which is 11.7%.
Counties like Labette (LB) that have a low percentage of "inactive" voters (Map 1) and a high number of voters who have not voted since 1999 (Map 2), may not be doing a good job in identifying "inactive" voters. Or, perhaps they don't have the resources and should not be criticized.
Counties that have high values in both Maps 1 and 2 (i.e., are colored purple or red in both maps), may not be doing a good job in removing voters from their rolls that have moved or died. For example, Pottawatomie County has 18.6% inactive voters and 6.5% of voters that have not voted since 1999. One of these voters from St. Marys died in 1999 but is still on the list (see below).
Invalid Ballot Codes. BUT, there is a problem with the analysis above in Map 2. The Secretary of State and the County Clerks/County Election Commissioners do not have valid fields in the election history for some voters, and it's possible some of the voters shown in Map 2 may really have voted since 1999. Since the Secretary of State does not enforce any rules on the counties on the ballot codes in the database, many of the ballot codes cannot be interpreted and had to be ignored in the creating of Map 2. How "bad" were the ballot codes by county? Map 3 shows those numbers:
3. "Invalid" Ballot History Codes by County
See Summary of Registered Voters in Kansas, Nov 2007, for details.
Some counties like Norton (NT, 0.1%), Douglas (DG, 0.4%), Clay (CY, 0.5%),
Harper (HP, 0.9%) should be commended for such a low error rate in their
ballot history codes. I have not received an explanation of why
these codes are "invalid". As far as I can determine, no
one knows what many of these codes mean. I know no more about these
invalid codes than when I first asked questions about them in March 2006.
The following provides documentation about some of the problems noted in the maps above:
How is the late W. Clarke Wescoe still an "active" voter in Johnson County after several mailings to his address since his death in 2004? The March 2, 2004 Hays Daily News said “Wescoe died Sunday [Feb 29, 2004] at a Kansas City-area retirement home.” Wescoe's address was the Mission Springs Assisted Living Retirement Homes, which apparently accepts all in-coming mail for any of its current or past residents. The retirement home never marks mail as undeliverable for deceased former residents.
A review of other voters at the Mission Springs Assisted Living Retirement Homes shows other "active" voters, who may or may not still be there:
On the other hand, a 98 year old voter at that address, who is on the permanent advance voting list, DID vote in the Nov 2006 general election and is an "active" voter. Only one of 19 voters at that address has been marked as "inactive".
While many voters are removed from the voting rolls when they die, apparently there are still many on the list. How long must one be dead before one is removed from the voting rolls in Kansas?
Many voters who leave Kansas re-register in another state and that information is sent back to Kansas, at which time their Kansas registration is dropped. But, sometimes Kansas is never notified that a voter has moved and these voters can stay on the rolls in Kansas for years before they are dropped. I know of one case like this, which I discovered by accident while researching another matter.
Dennis Langley, who was the chair of the Kansas Democratic Party from 1993-1999 moved to Johnson County in 2000 and then moved to South Dakota. Langley has been the National Vice-Chair of the South Dakota Democratic Party for years (at least 2004-2007). Langley apparently votes in South Dakota, but until 2007 was still a registered voter in Hutchinson in Reno County. Langley registered to vote in Reno County in 1993 and last voted there in Nov 1998. After nearly ten years of not-voting, Reno County finally dropped Langley from their list of voters during 2007.
At various times I have identified 60-100 entries in the statewide database that I believe are duplicate entries based on statistical arguments. Here are some known examples:
In early 2005 one former Wichita Eagle employee was registered to vote in three separate counties, Sedgwick, Reno and Johnson Counties. As this person moved, a new registration record was created, but the old one was not purged. Now that person only has a single voter registration record. In theory, the new ELVIS system reduces this problem when one moves between counties.
On the other hand, two voters in Johnson County have identical information, and only differ in their voter history. I believe these are different voters.
In Jan 2004, a “Charles Brian Bradford” registered to vote at the SAME address as the then Johnson County Sheriff Currie Myers. Sheriff Myers complained to the then Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison. Morrison did nothing and this person was l registered to vote at Myers’ home address until 2007. Should anyone be allowed to use your home address for voting purposes when they obviously don’t live in your house? If the Sheriff of Johnson County can’t get this problem fixed at his home address, it’s likely the rest of us don’t have a chance.
Bradford had been marked an "inactive" voter and was removed from the list of voters in 2007.
An "inactive" voter has been registered since 1998 to vote from this empty lot in Kansas City, KS, but has never voted:
1725 Greeley Ave, Kansas City, KS
There is an empty lot at 527 Everett Ave in Kansas City, KS, yet an "active" registered voter from this empty lot has voted in every Nov. general election in the last four election cycles: 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006. This voter from this empty lot has also voted in two special Wyandotte County elections, and two spring elections:
527 Everett Ave, Kansas City, KS
According to voter registration records, an "inactive" voter lives at the empty lot at 3064 Cissna (see below). This voter has only voted in the 2004 presidential election, and the 1996 presidential election.
3064 Cissna St, Kansas City, KS
Five voters are registered to vote from this abandoned house in Kansas City, KS at 3007 N. 18th St -- four "inactive" and one "active. Three of the voters have cast ballots in various elections. One only voted in the 2004 presidential election. One voted in the 2004 presidential election and an unknown city election. The third voter voted in November general elections in 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006, and August primary elections in 2000 and 2006, plus two special elections:
007 N. 18th St, Kansas City, KS
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County provides social services from the Wilhelmina Gill Multi-Service Center at 645 Nebraska Ave, which includes daily meals at the St. Mary's Soup Kitchen:
645 Nebraska Ave, Kansas City, KS
At present there are TEN registered voter at the address 645 Nebraska Ave, with one new voter registering at this address in Oct 2007. Five of these voters are "active" voters and five are "inactive" voters. Seven have never voted, and three voted in the 2004 presidential election. One of these three also voted in a single city election. I certainly don't want to disenfranchise homeless voters, but this situation seems ripe for fraud.
While the rate of voter fraud is unknown in Kansas, it certainly does exist, and little is done to identify or investigate problems.
[Photo credits: The Wyandotte County pictures were taken in 2005 by a concerned citizen when this problem was first discovered. The Meadowlark was given permission for publication of these pictures.]
K a n s a s M e a d o w l a r k @ g m a i l . c o m