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Dead folks voting? At least one's still alive

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Friday, Oct. 29, 2010, at 12:01 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, at 2:19 a.m.

TOPEKA — Republican Kris Kobach, who has built his campaign for Secretary of State around the issue of voter fraud, raised the specter of the dead voting in Kansas.

Kobach said in a news conference Thursday that 1,966 deceased people were registered to vote in Kansas.

"Every one of those 1,966 identities is an opportunity for voter fraud waiting to happen," he said.

Furthermore, he said, some were still casting ballots.

He gave an example of one person — Alfred K. Brewer, a Republican, registered in Sedgwick County with a birth date listed of Jan. 1, 1900. Brewer, according to the comparison of Social Security records and Kansas voter rolls, had died in 1996 yet had voted in the August primary, Kobach said.

Reached Thursday at his home where he was raking leaves, Brewer, 78, was surprised some people thought he was dead.

"I don't think this is heaven, not when I'm raking leaves," he said.

Brewer, who lives in Wichita, said he has been an active voter since he could vote. He first registered to vote in Kansas in 1964. He said he plans to cast a ballot Tuesday.

Brewer said his father, who had the same name and, according to Social Security records, was born in 1904, died in 1996.

"I'm just as surprised as you are," he said of the mix-up.

The date of birth of the still-voting Brewer shows up as Jan. 1, 1900 on voter lists because it is a placeholder used when the election offices don't know someone's birthdate, said Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Bill Gale.

Until the early 1970s, people would simply write their age on the voter registration card, but not a birthdate. In Sedgwick County, about 375 of the county's 260,000 registered voter records don't have specific birthdates.

Death certificates and signatures

To prevent election fraud and keep the dead from voting, Kobach said Kansas should require voters to show photo identification at the polls, and verify absentee ballots either through copies of photo IDs or signature matching. He also said the state should be comparing its voter rolls to the Social Security master death list.

Kansas law does not require counties to match signatures on mail-in ballots with those on voter registration cards, but most counties do, said Tyler Longpine, spokesman for Kansas Secretary of State Chris Biggs, who is running as the Democratic candidate.

The office also sends out a weekly list to county election offices with the names of Kansas registered voters who are potential matches for death certificates filed with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's vital statistics office.

Each week the Sedgwick County Election Office receives between 50 and 60 names, all with a date of birth and the last four digits of a social security number to make sure the name doesn't belong to someone who is still alive and voting, Gale said.

Longpine said that starting in January, the office will also cross-check the state list against the Social Security list to find Kansas voters who may have died in another state.

One example

During the news conference Kobach said the information about the number of dead people listed on the voter registration list originally came from a Kansas City television station and a website.

The groups compared the Social Security death list with the Kansas voter registration roles and came up with the number 1,966.

"That is almost 2,000 voters who are on our rolls, or 2,000 identities, who are on our rolls who are actually deceased individuals," Kobach said.

He later added, "We have done some of our own research and it is amazing what you find."

He then highlighted Brewer's case, noting that Social Security said he was born in 1904, but he was listed on the voter registration roll as being born in 1900.

"An Alfred K. Brewer voted in the 2010 primary election," Kobach said. "Is it the same one? We are still trying to achieve confirmation of this but it certainly seems like a very real possibility."

Brewer's case was the only example given Thursday.

Later Thursday, Ben Davis, spokesman for the Kobach campaign said they had taken the list from a credible source — KSHB-TV in Kansas City and the website Kansas Watchdog.

Longpine said he doubted that there were 1,966 dead people on the voter registration rolls. The names identified on the report cited by Kobach represented the "broadest possible list of possible matches and most of them turn out to be false positives," he said.

Kansas has 1.7 million registered voters.

Smith County

Kobach also highlighted six counties which he said Kansas Watchdog found had more registered voters then people listed in the U.S. Census estimate.

Top of the list was Smith County, which had a voter registration rate of 109 percent.

"Just because you have statistical numbers doesn't mean you have voter fraud," said Sharon Wolters, Smith County clerk. "Those people aren't voting."

Her county has 3,342 registered voters, 308 of whom are listed as inactive, which means the office has attempted multiple time contact them and received no response. The names could be people who died in another state or who moved away and the state had not yet been notified.

Even after the attempts to contact voters, federal law requires the names stay on the lists through two general elections, she said.

Her office also receives the weekly list of death certificates filed with the state that match voters in Smith County and election workers match signatures on all ballots, she said.

Just having someone say a family member or friend is dead is not enough to remove someone from the voting rolls, she said.

"Unless I have notice through a death certificate or notice from a newspaper," names couldn't be removed she said. "But if their obituary was in Arizona, I don't have any way of finding it."

Kobach also said that Kansas should have reciprocal agreements with all other states — currently it has agreements with 13 other states — to be notified when someone leaves Kansas and registers to vote in another state.

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