By Earl Glynn and Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — An examination of voting and population records by Missouri Watchdog shows that one Missouri county has more registered voters on the rolls than age-eligible residents.
More than a dozen have suspiciously high percentages, which indicate the need for purging.
As Missouri residents cast their votes Tuesday, their names were listed among people who have likely died or moved out of the respective district.
Critics say that makes the Show Me State ripe for voter fraud, and it could result in people questioning the fairness of the elections.
“When you leave the list so dirty you have the appearance that things are not being run properly,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a think tank that promotes government integrity.
More than 102 percent of Reynolds County residents of voting age are registered to cast ballots in 2012.
It’s outlandish, yet better than the 153 percent on the Reynolds list in 2004, when 34 Missouri counties had more registered voters than residents of voting age. The U.S. Department of Justice sued, alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act.
The suit led state and local election authorities to put more effort into cleaning up its voter lists, but the progress has been slow. Fifteen counties had more than 100 percent voter registration in 2010, Watchdog discovered.
Most of those counties still have percentages at 95 percent or greater this year, which, Fitton says, “isn’t much better.” The state average is around 90 percent, but if the rolls were accurate, the percentage would probably be closer to 75, Fitton said.
“I know they’ve had problems in the past, and it’s disconcerting that problems have popped up again,” he said. “There’s no good excuse having rolls over 100 percent.”
In a written response to a letter from Fitton, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan said the U.S. District Court found that her office had made adequate efforts to monitor local election authorities.
“Since that decision, our office has continued to go above and beyond what is required by law,” she wrote in the March 22 letter.
This includes matching Missouri’s voter-registration list with those of 14 other states to check for duplicate voters and sending notifications reminding voters about the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address program, Carnahan wrote.
She said purging voter rolls is a lengthy process. The NVRA allows inactive voters to be removed from the list only after two successive federal elections have passed.
Missouri’s problem is not an uncommon one across the United States.
Judicial Watch launched its 2012 Election Integrity Project to urge 12 states to purge inactive voters from the registration lists, Missouri included.
The 2012 numbers show Missouri’s voter list is bloated by about 435,000. Nearly 472,000 voters were inactive in 2010.
Nearly 11 percent of the state’s 4.1 million voters are marked inactive by county clerks and election officials.
A voter becomes inactive when an election mailing has been returned as undeliverable and the voter does not respond to a notice requesting they disclose a correct address.
Reynolds County Clerk Mike Harper takes exception with the way the percentages are calculated. He said the county has 4,767 active registered voters, which would give it a percentage of about 90 percent, compared to residents old enough to vote. It rises above 100 percent when including about 700 inactive voters.
“We’ve been on this same deal for years,” he told Watchdog, “and we’re been working on the canvassing to get the numbers down.”
To speed up the purging process, Harper said his staff removes names in the local obituaries from the rolls before they get the monthly death report from the county’s department of human services.
“If we know someone’s dead in the county, we take them right off,” he said.
Judicial Watch in February sent letters to Reynolds, Butler, Clark, Putnam and Shelby counties and the city of St. Louis, threatening to sue if they don’t clean up their voter rolls. The organization believes the entities are in violation of the NVRA for not maintaining accurate lists of eligible voters for federal elections.
Fitton got responses from all six jurisdictions.
Putnam County Clerk Chrystal Perkins said she ran a check of inactive voters after receiving the letter and was able to delete 342 names.
Shelby County Clerk Tracy Smith said she had just finished her 2012 voter canvass. Her staff mailed 4,341 cards to registered voters, and the postal service returned 425. Residence-confirmation letters were mailed to the missing 425 voters, and 261 could not be located. After 30 days, those 261 were moved to the inactive list.
“We are very adamant about NVRA and follow it through with the attention that it deserves and is required,” she wrote.
Fitton said his group has no immediate plans to file lawsuits.
“They know there’s a problem and they’re taking steps to address it,” he said.
Related: Missouri: Comparison of Registered Voter Counts to Census Voting Age Population, Watchdog Labs, Aug. 13
Email Kampis at [email protected]