By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
FREDERICKSBURG — While Virginia’s attorney general investigates the activity of a rogue Republican voter-registration worker, Democratic election officials across the border in Maryland are turning a blind eye to thousands of reported cases of potential voter fraud in that state.
Election Integrity Maryland, a nonpartisan group, says it has identified some 11,000 “irregularities” on voting rolls around the state. The cases include hundreds of dead people, as well as voters who have moved decades ago, but remain on the rolls at their vacated addresses.
EIM says the state’s slow-moving bureaucracy leaves Maryland open to wide-scale vote fraud.
Unlike Virginia, which mailed new registration cards to its voters this fall, Maryland has no voter-ID requirement at its polling places and issues no voter-registration cards.
The 11,000 challenges, filed by EIM with local and state election boards, come from an examination of 35,000 registrations — just 1 percent of the Maryland total — said Cathy Kelleher, president of the volunteer group.
But, so far, EIM’s investigative efforts have been greeted with little more than polite acknowledgement.
“I appreciate their work, but I know of no names that have been taken off the rolls” as a result of EIM’s research, said Mary Wagner, the state’s director of voter registration.
In theory, dead Marylanders are removed for the voting lists when their names appear on the state Department of Health’s monthly reports, which are circulated to state and local election boards.
But EIM found that Montgomery County, for one, was not following through.
“It was a complete breakdown of the system,” Kelleher said. “Just running the dead against the Social Security Death Index would be a start.
“We found people who were registered after their date of death. We found active voter registration forms with no date of birth, which makes it impossible to trace,” she said.
In College Park — home of the University of Maryland — and Annapolis — site of the U.S. Naval Academy— EIM uncovered thousands of active voter registrations for people who had moved 10, 20 and even 30 years ago, but remained on the local voting rolls.
Election board officials say they send letters to verify voters’ whereabouts. If those letters are not returned, officials assume that the registrations are still valid.
Kelleher questioned that assumption.
“In Annapolis alone, I found 240 active voter registrations of people who hadn’t lived there in 20 or 30 years,” she said.
Compared to Virginia and other states, Maryland election officials appear more lackadaisical and less transparent about cleansing their voting rolls.
Virginia, for example, uses the Electronic Registration Information Center system to cross-reference voter-registration with other states to cleanse voting lists and to guard against double voting.
Maryland was an early adopter of ERIC, but officials in Annapolis have refused to disclose what, if anything, has been done with the system.
“Our lawmakers should find out what Maryland is getting for its money,” EIM vice president Catharine Trauernicht said Thursday.
Maryland officials were embarrassed earlier this year when Florida officials discovered that Maryland congressional candidate Wendy Rosen was registered to vote in both states. Rosen, a Democrat, ended her campaign shortly after it was revealed she voted in both states.
Maryland’s local election boards — all led by Democrats appointed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley — have been slow to act on EIM’s research.
Back in February, EIM notified Montgomery County of some 5,400 irregularities that could “open a door to voter fraud.”
Eight months later, Trauernicht said the county was still dragging its feet.
“We asked for a copy of the actions taken by the staff on our February submissions, and about 10 days later were sent some paperwork with handwritten notes in the margins. This paperwork was copies of some of our submission pages.
“We have not received what we would call an ‘official’ response to any of our work,” Trauernicht said.
Wagner said the databases used by EIM cannot necessarily be trusted, and Montgomery County Election Director Margaret Jurgensen said last month that her board wouldn’t take any action on voter rolls until after the election.
“We will compare (EIM’s) submitted list of names to the returned sample ballots after the general election in accordance to the regulations of the State Board of Elections,” Jurgensen said.
Kelleher said that’s not nearly good enough.
“We were first told something would be done after the primary. Then it’s after the general election. They’re always a day late,” she said of the local boards.
O’Malley’s office did not respond to Watchdog’s request for comment.
In Virginia, meantime, the state Board of Elections unanimously directed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to investigate a charge that one voter- registration contractor had thrown out eight voter applications in Rockingham County.
Colin Small of Phoenixville, Pa., was charged Oct. 18 with 13 felony and misdemeanor counts. Small, who worked for an independent contractor hired by the Republican Party of Virginia to conduct voter registration drives, was arrested after eight voter-registration applications were found in a trash bin behind a Harrisonburg store.
State GOP Chairman Pat Mullins said last week that Small was fired “immediately after we learned of his alleged actions.”
Cuccinelli said in a statement on Wednesday: “This office will perform a thorough investigation of these very serious allegations.”
The Republican added, “Violations of election laws will not be tolerated in the commonwealth. Citizens must feel confident that one of our most precious rights – the right to vote – is protected and that the electoral process is a secure and democratic one. We will do everything we can to ensure that.”
Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or (571) 319-9824.