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Iowa county’s voter rolls filled with deceased residents

By   /   July 23, 2014  /   No Comments

By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES, Iowa — Betty Ellis doesn’t know why 100 dead people were registered to vote in Wright County.

That’s a problem. Ellis is the county auditor and in charge of elections there.

Wright County’s number of registered dead came to light last week when Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced that 1,234 Iowans who are listed as dead by the Social Security Administration are still registered to vote.

“We reviewed the information from the Social Security death index and then sent names that appeared on both the index and the voter rolls to the auditor of the county the person is registered in so the auditor can determine if the information is accurate and the person’s name needs to be removed,” Schultz’s spokesperson, Chance McElhaney, told Iowa Watchdog.

Only Wayne County didn’t have any dead people registered. Most of Iowa’s other 98 counties had numbers in the single digits or low teens.

Leaving the dead on the voter rolls opens up the possibility of voter fraud.

“Dirty rolls can mean dirty elections,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said earlier this year during a press conference that singled out Iowa and Colorado for failing to properly maintain their voter rolls.

Of particular concern was possibility of people being able to cast absentee ballots using the names of dead voters. That sort of voter fraud has been documented in Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

Nowhere in Iowa was the problem of deceased registration worse than in Wright County. Despite being a rural county with a population of 13,000, Wright had 15 more dead people registered than Polk County, which has a population of 440,000.

Ellis maintains her office routinely removes deceased voters from the rolls.

“If somebody hasn’t voted in quite a few years, we’ll send a card out. If we get the card back from a family member letting us know the person no longer lives there or is deceased, then we’ll make that person inactive and we take the person off our records,” Ellis told Iowa Watchdog.

Ellis said her office does this “about annually.”

NO IDEA: Wright County Auditor Betty Ellis said she has no idea why the county had 100 dead people registered to vote.

NO IDEA: Wright County Auditor Betty Ellis said she has no idea why the county had 100 dead people registered to vote.

Asked why so many dead people were still registered if she routinely removes inactive voters, Ellis replied, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

Ellis didn’t even know she had been contacted by the secretary of state’s office. She said she hadn’t received the email notification and list of names Schultz sent to auditors.

“We didn’t know anything about this until somebody called the office and asked about the list. Then we immediately contacted the secretary of state’s office,” Ellis said.

At the request of Iowa Watchdog, Ellis checked her email. She found the notification.

“I was on vacation last week when this came in,” Ellis said, explaining why she’d hadn’t seen the email before.

According to Ellis, her office has already removed the 100 names of dead residents from the list of registered voters.

Neighboring Franklin County, which has a population similar to Wright, only had to remove two names from its voter rolls.

“We try to stay current by checking the local obituaries and having the recorder’s office inform us whenever a death certificate is issued,” auditor Michelle Giddings told Iowa Watchdog.

Ellis does neither of those things. Because auditors are independent, elected officials, the secretary of state can’t require her to change her procedures.

“It’s up to each auditor to decide how they want to make sure their records are accurate,” McElhaney said.

Ellis said she is considering doing more to make sure the deceased don’t remain registered to vote in Wright County.

“We are going to possibly contact the secretary of state’s office or the Social Security Administration to see if we can get the list (of the deceased) more frequently.”

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org

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Before joining Watchdog.org in December, 2013, Paul Brennan wrote for numerous publications from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles (and many places in between), covering a wide range of topics, from skateparks to cloning.

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