By Yaël Ossowski | Watchdog.org
ST. PETERSBURG — Imagine a civic paradise in Florida: a county in which every citizen over the age of 18 is registered to vote, votes in every election and keeps all information up-to-date with election officials, whether it be a recent move, a death in the family or a name change.
Believe it or not, that is the case in a growing number of Florida counties, each one on the cusp of having 100 percent or more of their voting age population as registered and active voters.
According to an analysis by Watchdog Labs, Watchdog.org’s sister organization, there are four counties in Florida which that extremely high numbers of voters compared to voting age population — at times more than 100 percent.
But while some may applaud the apparent civic responsibility of Florida residents, others are warning that this indicates a broader problem of sloppy voter rolls, opening the door to fraud that could swing an election.
Earl Glynn, the Watchdog Labs researcher who gathered the data for this project,found that in Clay County, Okaloosa County, Santa Rosa County and St. Johns County there are more registered voters than voting age population.
“In most urban areas, it is not uncommon to see 80-90 percent, but we’re talking about nearing 100 percent or above,” Glynn said.
His data looks at inactive and active voters who are on the rolls ahead of November’s election. Inactive voters are those who have not cast a ballot after two federal elections.
Research conducted by the Pew Center on the Statesreveals that approximately 24 million voter registrations, or 1 in 8, are no longer valid. They also estimate that more than 1.8 million dead people are still listed as voters and more than 2.75 million people are registered to vote in multiple states.
“We actually have an ongoing list maintenance program that is conducted on a monthly basis up until 90 days before each election,” said Vicky Oakes, supervisor of elections for St. Johns County, which has the highest level of its voting population registered to vote — more than 108 percent.
Oakes said the last purge was Aug. 20, the last possible date to remove inactive, deceased and ineligible voters before the November election, according to federal law.
“This has really come up before,” said Oakes. “We have a lot of military that are registered in St. Johns County that maintain a home of record here and they really weren’t included in the census count.”
She told Watchdog.org that the heavy military population, as well as the ballooning population, make the rolls more bloated than they otherwise would be.
“We’re one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Florida. The population figures are just estimates. These days, we’re in a very mobile society and we have to take that into consideration,” said Oakes. “Most of the inactive voters will come off the rolls after Election Day and that needs to be taken into consideration as well.”
Election watchdogs aren’t so sure that all will be well once Election Day passes.
“When you start getting into the 100 percent, you’re starting to get into the gray area of the law,” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman of True the Vote, the ballot integrity organization based in Houston.
Churchwell said his organization sent legal notices to all the mentioned counties back in August and received several responses from the elections board supervisors.
“The latest figures from Santa Rosa County actually show that voter registered is close to 114 percent of the(voting age) population,” Churchwell said. “National average, regardless of population size, is 70 percent.”
Churchwell told Watchdog.org that growing voter rolls are a big problem in the context of keeping elections legitimate and fair.
“When you get percentages like 110, 108, 105 percent, your first indication is that they’re not cleaning up their rolls very well,” Churchwell said. “It’s still an accounting gimmick.
“About 108 percent of St. Johns County can cast a ballot in November. Just let that sit in your mind for a minute.
“These situations really show that you have an increased risk of fraud at the ballot box. What are they doing to take the deceased off the voter rolls, noncitizens and felons?” Churchwell asked.
Yaël Ossowski is Florida Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org. Contact: Yael@FloridaWatchdog.org.
— Yaël (@YaelOss) October 10, 2012
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