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Dead voters in Missouri?

By   /   October 28, 2010  /   News  /   4 Comments

A 26-year-old Lee’s Summit woman died in September, 2008, but voting history from the Missouri Secretary of State said she voted in the November, 2008, general election. Did Emily McDaniels vote, or was there some sort of clerical error?

Missouri Watchdog provided a list of potential dead registered voters from Missouri and Kansas to Russ Ptacek at NBC Action News.  Ptacek independently researched a number of names on the list, including the Emily McDaniels:

Death Master File

Missouri Watchdog extracted 3.1 million records from the Death Master File and compared them with the  4.1 million registered voters in Missouri.  A scoring system was used to track different kinds of matches and how “good” a match was considered.  The results show a potential list of 4,294 dead registered voters who could be removed once official verification has been established.  This list will have false matches that need to be discarded.  Both systems have different ways of treating data, and errors can occur in any data field.  See the Methodology section below for more information.

In roughly one out of three records, online information can be used to connect the voter registration information with the Death Master File information for tentative confirmation. Research is more difficult for common names, or for death records that are more than 10 years old.

Ptacek had access to a computer database to search for detailed information about someone given the social security number.  Missouri Watchdog relied on several online sources including databases available through local libraries.

McDaniels had a middle initial in the Death Master File but did not in the voter registration data. That match along with a match on last name and date of birth gave McDaniels a good score in the analysis. The DMF said her “LastZIP” was 64063, which was close, but a different Lee’s Summit ZIP code than her voter registration address, 64086.

When matches are close but not perfect between voter registration and the Death Master File, it’s often not clear if there is an error in the data, or what other explanation might exist. In one Kansas match, a twin with a very similar name obviously matched on last name and birth date.

About 42 percent of the 4,294 potential dead registered voters have been flagged as “inactive” and possibly could be deleted after the November 2010 election in keeping with federal law.

St. Louis City and St. Louis County account for almost 65 percent of the potential dead registered voters.  Kansas City and Jackson County account for only 6 percent.

Dead Voters?

From the 4,294 potential dead registered voters a check was made between the death date and the date the last ballot was cast. This resulted in 281 potential “dead voters.”

Dead registered voters or dead voters?

McDaniel’s voting history said she cast a ballot on 11/4/2008 even though she died on 9/13/2008.

See Russ Ptacek’s video report of his discussion about this with Emily’s parents.

The ultimate confirmation on any of these suspicious votes is to compare the signature from the poll book with the reference signature card on file with an election authority.

Will dead registered voters or some of the 472,000 inactive voters with unknown mailing addresses affect the November election?  Missouri Watchdog will be watching and will provide updates after analyzing the data following the elections.

A list of prisoners in Missouri was not analyzed.


The Death Master File was compared with Missouri voter registration data to find dead registered voters, including ones that show voting history after their death.

The Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains about 87 million records listing all deaths since 1937 for those receiving Social Security payments.

Investigative Reporters and Editors through the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting at the Missouri School of Journalism provide this data for use by journalists.

These Death Master File Notes provide descriptive statistics of the various fields in the database to explain limitations in their use.  Appendix C of that document explains the four fields used to create a state subset of the Death Master File.

The Missouri Death Master File subset currently has 3,068,216 records.

Missouri voter registration data is an open record under the Missouri Sunshine Law that can be purchased from the Missouri Secretary of State.  The file obtained on Aug. 27, 2010 contained information on 4,115,119 registered voters.

The 4.1 million registered voters were matched with the 3.1 million Death Master File subset if the last name and the birth date (mm/dd/yyyy) matched.  This “minimal match” resulted in 82,722 potential matches.

A scoring system was used to score all the records in the minimal match.  In theory, a higher score was a “better” match.  The scoring system was designed to know what matched and what did not.  This scoring system is described in a document, Matching Death Master File with Missouri Voter Registration Data.

Each of the approximate 35 different scores represented different combinations of matches. Each set of matches was scanned for obvious mismatches that should be ignored. This system needs to be tuned to result in fewer false matches, but a “fuzzy match” with data that can have errors will always have some false matches.

The initial match and review resulted in 4,294 records and were ordered from “best” match score to “worst” match score.  This was the “likely registered voter” list to use for further verification.

“Dead voters”, those apparently casting ballots after their death, were determined by studying voting history and the death date. Missouri voting history data makes this a simple comparison since each ballot code contains the date of the election.

A list of 281 potential “dead voters” was derived from the 4,294 potential “dead registered voters.”  These voters need to be scrutinized to confirm a connection between the death and voting information.

Obituaries were obtained when possible from “America’s Obituaries & Death Notices” from NewsBank.  Newsbank news searches, prior voter registration information, and information found from Google were used to connect the voter information with the death records for verification.

Raw Data Results (Excel files):

Technical information about data fields in files above.

Social Security Numbers, voter registration IDs, street house numbers were cleared in the files above.  date_of_birth was replaced with year_of_birth.  These modified columns are shown with a gray background in the Excel file.


Contact: Earl F Glynn, earl@kansaswatchdog.org, KansasWatchdog.org


  • Peggy

    So does this have something to do with the woman who called me at 8:00 a.m. yesterday saying she was from the IRS? She was verifying the identification of someone whose return they were looking at. After finally saying the person was supposedly dead, she asked for the last 4 digits of my SSN or my birthday so that she could verify I was not that person. I declined to do so — don’t think the IRS would ask for that info on the phone but I haven’t followed up with them. Will probably do so now. She decided that she was talking to me I wasn’t dead….not sure how she recorded it on whatever she turned in.

  • Kristina DesCombes

    We have a social security number for a reason. It with a valid driver’s license or state issued I.D. should be the only way a person can vote. Why is that not required? It would appropriately identify each individual.

    This is just ridiculous.

  • Earl Glynn

    Peggy: That call had nothing to do with our investigation. efg

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