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Backseat Election Geeking in Florida and Michigan

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[Image courtesy of Random Originals]

In the last week or so, we've seen stories in Florida and Michigan suggesting that there are serious problems with each of those state's voter rolls.

In Florida, the State Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles turned over information to the Department of State suggesting that as many as 180,000 nonresident voters were not only registered but casting ballots in the state.

In Michigan, the State Auditor released an audit of voting records suggesting that deceased voters cast almost 1,400 ballots in the period 2008-2011.

Both of these stories are interesting because they represent, if you'll pardon the term, "backseat election geeking" by state officials with access to election information who aren't actually election officials. In that way, they are reminiscent of the controversy in South Carolina earlier this year about dead voters on the rolls.

That story, like these two, involved three steps:

  1. an initial splashy allegation of a problem with elections by a non-election official;
  2. an instant reaction aimed at addressing the seriousness of the problem and fixing it; and then
  3. pushback from the relevant election official(s) that the problem is nowhere as severe as the allegation would suggest.

Indeed, we've already reached Step 3 in both states.

In Florida, the effort to deliver names of alleged nonresidents to counties has already turned up some evidence that not all of the alleged nonresidents are actually ineligible - plus concern about the timing of the audit so close to the fall election.

In Michigan, the Secretary of State - who supports photo ID for elections - nonetheless responded by noting that "example cited in [the audit] involved clerks accidentally crossing incorrect names off voter lists, and not one example was the result of someone voting using another person's identity."

This kind of outside oversight is both to be expected and should be welcomed - but the two recent examples (when combined with that of South Carolina) suggests that state election officials likely need to stay in communication with other officials and agencies within their states - just as they stay in communication with local election offices.

If nothing else, such communication might head off some of the more spectacular allegations that appear occasionally - and, failing that, will at least ensure that problems identified are real problems rather than the kind that decrease in severity as the evidence emerges.

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