COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An initial review of allegations about votes cast under dead people’s names reveals clerical errors and problems with records — but doesn’t indicate fraud, a top elections official told legislators Wednesday.
The issue arose before the first-in-the-South presidential primary that took place last weekend, and it’s part of the fallout from a new South Carolina law requiring voters to show government-issued photographic identification to vote in person. The U.S. Justice Department challenged the law.
Two weeks ago, Department of Motor Vehicles Executive Director Kevin Shwedo told a House panel that his agency’s analysis of state voter ID data that votes were cast under the names of 953 dead people over the past six years. With the presidential primary looming, he turned the issue over to the State Law Enforcement Division and state Attorney General Alan Wilson to investigate.
State Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino joined the call for the investigation, but said Wednesday that a look at some of the cases shows run-of-the-mill problems with dated records or sloppy practices.
Andino told legislators that Shwedo had never told her about the issue of dead voters before taking it to the House, and that she still hasn’t been provided with the full list of voters Shwedo questioned. Of 20 names she’s received so far from the attorney general, she has found little to indicate that fraud occurred.
She told legislators that her review shows a combination of clerical errors and limits in using records that aren’t are instantly updated. Polling lists, for instance, are prepared with death records that can be three months old.
Six of the names Andino was given were in Abbeville County. Of those, Andino found one voter cast an absentee ballot and died before the election, poll workers checked the wrong names off on polling lists for three voters and stray marks showed two people had voted when they did not.
The mistakes are unfortunate but not uncommon, Andino said. “We will pull every voter registration list; and we will pull every poll list and we will research all 953 of these because we take every allegation seriously, but these are the types of things you find” and that the agency tries to guard against in training, Andino said.
“I am in no way trying to minimize the seriousness of the allegations of voter fraud. If even one fraudulent vote has been cast, that is one too many,” Andino said.
But Andino was irked that Shwedo said votes were purposely cast using dead people’s names. “Characterizing this as an established fact threatens our confidence or the confidence of citizens have in our voter registration and election processes,” she said.
The dead voter issue came up as Shwedo took a second look at data Andino’s agency put together to respond to the Justice Department review of the law. It found that 239,333 people lacked state-issued ID.
The new law required the state to provide free ID cards, and Shwedo was worried about the cost.
Shwedo told legislators that Andino’s list was flawed and included 37,295 records that appeared to belong to dead people and 91,466 belonging to those whose state license records had been dropped because they now had a driver’s license in another state. Meanwhile, more than 58,000 simply appeared to have expired South Carolina licenses.
But Andino said she can’t easily remove people from voting lists under federal and state law. “We can’t just simply remove somebody because DMV thinks they might be deceased. As you can see from the 20 voters so far, I haven’t seen that their data is highly reliable,” Andino said.
Shwedo told legislators that the state Election Commission knew about problems with the data used to support the law as the federal Justice Department reviewed it.
Andino told legislators that while some of the names could be removed from the list others couldn’t. And she said Shwedo never discussed with her any concerns about 953 dead people voting.
“I would have liked to have seen the list and had the chance to do the research before it was made public,” Andino said. “I was not aware that they found anything out of the ordinary.”
Andino’s testimony was reassuring, said Barbara Zia, co-president of the South Carolina League of Women Voters. “We’re glad to hear that state agencies are getting to the bottom of this because it is very important.
Myrtle Beach Republican Rep. Alan Clemmons is running the House Judiciary panel reviewing the issue. “The bottom line is we must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting; we must have certainty in South Carolina that our voting list is an accurate list,” Clemmons said.
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