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Valley Perspective | SECOND OPINION

Inflated Voter Rolls Raise the Bar for VOTE Petition

Registrations appear to be overstated by 10% to 12%. That's a lot of deadwood when it comes to collecting the extra signatures to compensate.

October 18, 1998|BRUCE L. BIALOSKY | Bruce L. Bialosky of Studio City is a certified public accountant and a member of the board of directors of Valley VOTE

One of our most important civic responsibilities is voting. Over the years, we have had many concerns--and some jokes--about who actually casts ballots. But jokes aside, we should all be concerned about whether the people whose names are on the voter rolls are properly registered.

As someone actively involved in requesting a study of San Fernando Valley cityhood, the number of people registered to vote in the Valley has become important in my life. Whereas a statewide initiative needs to get 5% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election to sign a petition, Valley VOTE--Voters Organized Toward Empowerment--needs to get 25% of registered voters in the Valley. If the Los Angeles County registrar has not properly cleansed voter rolls of people no longer qualified, then our task is made that much harder. Also, any election could be subject to voter fraud if improperly registered (even deceased) individuals were able to cast a ballot.

I contacted the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder / County Clerk's office to find out what they do to trim what could be called "deadwood." The National Voter Registration Act, called the "Motor Voter Act," in conjunction with other statutes dictates what county registrars can do to assure clean voter rolls.

There are only two ways to be deleted. First, if you personally notify the county registrar of a change in your voter registration, your name can be deleted. The other way is to die. But when someone with a common name, such as Smith, dies, the registrar's office may not be able to match the death certificate with the correct Smith. Thus, not all dead people are deleted.

The registrar's office also performs a number of procedures having mainly to do with changes of address. If the county registrar becomes aware through a third party that someone's address has changed, the registrar puts that person's name in an inactive file. If the person shows up at the polls, he or she is allowed to vote and the name is returned to active status.

Likewise, if mailings sent to voters are returned as undeliverable, the registrar's officer puts that name in the inactive file. Also, the county gets a computer list of U.S. Postal Service address changes once a year and matches them with the voter rolls. In 1997, 215,665 people were moved to inactive status in Los Angeles County based on this process.

The best way to judge whether the county is doing all that it can to cleanse the voter rolls is to compare its procedures to other counties'. I found two procedures that aren't being done in L.A. County.

First, instead of getting the list from the Postal Service once a year, the county could do a match twice a year. Orange County does this and removed about 3% of its registered voters in its mid-year match this year. Based on the number of voters Los Angeles removes with its annual matching--just short of 6%, with a voter roll of 3.8 million--it is reasonable to say that the voter rolls for the November election will be 3% overstated because this second matching has not been done.

A second procedure not performed in L.A. County apparently could produce an even greater reduction. Each county is allowed to give inactive status to voters who have not voted in the last four major elections (primaries and general elections). Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino counties did this in 1997 and each moved 9% of its voters to inactive status. Los Angeles County did not do this. Conny McCormack, L.A. County registrar / recorder, has said this is to prevent removing anyone who only voted in municipal elections, and that she hoped to be able to match city and county voter rolls and correct the problem.

That is not a good enough reason to wait. Very few people vote in municipal elections but skip gubernatorial and presidential balloting. Even if they did, their names would be in the inactive file; if they appeared at the polls they would be allowed to vote.

Because Los Angeles County has not performed these two procedures, current voter rolls appear to be overstated by 10% to 12%. That equates to 380,000 to 456,000 voters. In the Valley, that would mean that an estimated 53,000 to 63,600 voters are on the rolls who should not be--a lot of deadwood.

These inflated rolls mean that to qualify the Valley VOTE petition, we need to collect 13,000 to 16,000 extra signatures to compensate for these phantom voters. We will do it because there are so many people in the Valley who are interested in seeing this study done.

In the meantime, county supervisors should instruct the county registrar to clean up the rolls with these two processes before the November election. They should also review other procedures to make sure that the integrity of the voter rolls is at the highest level possible.

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