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Pennsylvania joins coalition to clean up voter rolls

Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania has joined a multi-state alliance that aims to clean up voter rolls by identifying people registered in more than one state and dead people who remain on registration lists.

A mobile society makes it “important that election officials use available tools to make sure only legally registered individuals vote,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele said in August when Pennsylvania joined.

About half of all states, led by Kansas, belong to the coalition, which cross-checks voters' names. States compile registration lists at the end of each year to check for duplicates.

The program has grown rapidly since beginning in 2005. This year, officials identified more than 5 million questionable registrations in 22 states and discovered some people who voted in multiple states.

Many of the registration problems are innocent, but disorder in the system can invite trouble, officials say.

Election managers say they have a duty to ensure every eligible voter has an opportunity to participate. A commitment to accuracy goes along with that commitment to access, they said.

Election leaders in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties don't yet know how they'll assist with scrubbing the lists.

Up-to-date lists help voters feel more comfortable about the validity of an election, said Mark Wolosik, manager of the Allegheny County Elections Division.

“They can be assured and have confidence that the ones on the list are qualified to vote,” Wolosik said.

The state mandates counties to check yearly for voters who changed addresses or died, said Jim Montini, director of elections in Westmoreland County.

Outdated voter lists create “extra hassles” for election officials, said Ron Ruman, a spokesman for Aichele. Officials use birthdates, Social Security numbers and other data to ascertain a voter's true location and status.

Purging the lists can reduce the prospect for fraud, Ruman said. “It certainly is another good reason to do it.”

A Democratic congressional candidate in Maryland withdrew from the 2012 race amid allegations that she voted in Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008 elections, the Baltimore Sun reported.

A report last year by Philadelphia Election Commissioner Al Schmidt found a “Joe Cheeseboro” who voted in 2007 along with someone else by that name. One address was a convenience store, the other a vacant lot.

Schmidt is the lone Republican on a three-member board. His report on the 2012 primary alleged widespread voting irregularities in Philadelphia, drawing criticism from city Democrats.

Though rumors long have circulated that dead people's names are used to cast votes, “I haven't seen any concrete evidence of it,” Ruman said. “You hear it all the time.”

A voter ID law for Pennsylvania, which supporters say would ensure the integrity of the election process, is pending before Commonwealth Court. Critics say such a law would suppress Democratic votes in urban areas heavy with low-income voters and minorities. They say there's no proof of voter impersonation in Pennsylvania.

Requiring voters to show identification and cleaning up registration lists “both do have the goal of preserving the integrity of each vote, to make sure only people legally entitled to cast a ballot in a given election do so,” Ruman said.

Seven states are coordinating on a newer project — the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC — that makes assessments of voter lists more frequent with advanced algorithms. That project identified hundreds of thousands of registrations that need updating, including 23,000 people who are dead. Pennsylvania is not among the seven states.

Both data-matching programs are bipartisan, unlike predominantly Republican-led efforts just before the 2012 election.

Citizenship checks are not part of the programs.

The ERIC program participants see other potential: By expanding available data, states can identify people who appear to be eligible to vote but are not registered and send them information about registering.

Staff writer Aaron Aupperlee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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