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Audit raises concerns about efforts to purge the dead from voter rolls

Voters line up outside of Camden Yards on Election Day in 2020. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

State elections officials say a report released by the Office of Legislative Audits exaggerates the number of potentially dead people registered to vote in Maryland.

Auditors, in a report released Friday, raised concerns that the State Board of Elections is not doing enough to identify deceased registered voters. Also, auditors questioned the time it takes to report people who try to vote more than once to state prosecutors and the agency’s efforts to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

In a statement after the audit was released, Elections Administrator Jared DeMarinis said the Board of Elections worked with the auditors throughout the process.

“What is clear from the audit findings is that Marylanders should have full faith and confidence in the integrity of our elections and voting process,” DeMarinis said. “SBE is committed to continuous improvement of election administration, and in many cases, issues identified in the audit have already been or will be resolved. SBE is committed to open and transparent election administration, security and meeting proceedings. SBE has already engaged with major stakeholders and outreach programs for the 2024 election cycle.”

The agency, which maintains records for more than 4.1 million Maryland voters, said the more than 2,400 voter registrations belonging to potentially deceased voters is overstated.

“While SBE agrees to enhanced procedures to identify deceased and duplicate voters, it maintains that the current processes are comprehensive and effective and notes that OLA’s characterization of the current process and the figures in the discussion notes are mischaracterized,” the agency wrote in a response submitted by DeMarinis.

Auditors compared state voter records as of Dec. 15, 2022 to Department of Health death records through May of that year. Using “fuzzy matching,” the review identified more than 2,400 active voter registrations belonging to people who were potentially dead.

Fuzzy matching is a search technique that broadens the parameters. Such a search would likely capture records for voters with similar names or other information. An additional review would be needed to narrow the search to a specific individual.

A random review of just five of those individuals found that four were deceased.

Elections officials, in their response, said the number of potentially problematic voter registrations is stretched over a 38-year period. More than 760 of those are not contained in the health department database used by auditors. Those people were found to have died in Maryland but had another state of residence listed on their death certificate.

Election officials said only 1,059 records had dates of death during the audit period. Of those, the health department failed to send election officials information on 150 people, leaving 908 voters who died during the audit period but whose registrations were not canceled.

“The 908 potentially deceased voters that were not canceled account for 0.62% of all voters that should have been removed,” elections officials wrote in their response.

“Given this percentage of successful cancellation of deceased voters, SBE maintains that the current procedures are sufficient to identify deceased voters and cancel them,” elections officials wrote in their response. “However, noting that there is room for improvement, SBE will make … changes to its processing of MDH death records.”

The report also raised questions about the timing of reporting voters who attempt to vote more than once to state prosecutors.

Current law gives the Office of the State Prosecutor three years from the date of the elections offense to pursue prosecution. The law does not specify a period in which state elections officials must report those violations to prosecutors.

The audit identified 134 voters in 2020 who voted multiple times – usually twice. That same year, 1,371 voters attempted to vote more than once.

In the July 2022 primary, auditors identified four people who voted more than once. Another 263 were found to have attempted to vote multiple times.

Auditors noted that state elections officials referred incidents from the 2022 primary in a timely manner. Issues found in the 2020 election, however, were not reported until April 2022 — 16 months after election results were verified.

Elections officials, in their response, blamed the delay on personnel turnover.

“In our opinion, more timely reporting by SBE would provide [the state prosecutor] sufficient time to investigate and pursue action against individuals improperly voting,” auditors wrote in their report.

The two elections audited fall within a time when the state expanded the use of mail-in ballots in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The audit does not specify if any of the issues relate to mail-in ballots. The General Assembly has passed legislation that attempts to address the issue of voters who may vote by mail but later attempt to cast a ballot in person by setting guidelines for which ballot is to be counted.

The report also faulted the agency for failing to comply with the requirements of the Open Meetings Act on three occasions.

Auditors made the finding acting on a complaint made through the office’s fraud, waste and abuse hotline.

State law requires public bodies including the State Board of Elections to post agendas and other materials no later than 48 hours before a meeting.

Auditors found that the board failed to do this for three of six meetings between January and August of 2022.

Elections officials, in their response, agreed with the findings. They argued extenuating circumstances related to ongoing litigation and the Memorial Day holiday in two of the three instances.

The agency, in its response, noted that the March meeting materials were posted roughly 25 hours in advance. The materials for the June 2 meeting were posted 45 hours in advance — three hours shy of the requirement.

In the case of the August 15 meeting, state elections officials called the failure to meet the deadline “an oversight.”

This story was updated to include a statement after the audit was released. Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report. 


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Audit raises concerns about efforts to purge the dead from voter rolls