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Frank Gray

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Unwanted vote-habit mailer rife with errors

Last week we wrote about an organization that was sending letters to area voters – and their neighbors – detailing whether they had voted in recent elections.

The mailer – which angered some of the recipients, who believed their voting habits should be their own business – was sent out by an organization called Americans for Limited Government.

The organization said its only goal was to increase voter participation in elections.

Experiments by universities and other groups show that similar mailers actually do increase voter participation. One exercise conducted in Michigan produced an 8 percent increase in voter turnout, and other experiments produced even greater results.

In Tuesday’s election, though, it doesn’t seem to have panned out quite as well. While voter turnout was strong in this election, it wasn’t as good as in 2008.

Why isn’t clear, but one thing that is clear is that a lot of people were miffed by the mailers because, well, they said the information was wrong.

One man said one of the mailers came to his house, addressed to his daughter. But his daughter hadn’t lived at that address for 10 years.

Another woman reported that one of the mailers came to her home addressed to the previous owner, who hadn’t lived there for seven years.

Exactly where Americans for Limited Government got the information for the mailers isn’t clear, but it almost certainly had to have been obtained at the county level, where anyone can buy reports showing who voted, who didn’t, and whether a person had voted in Republican or Democratic primaries.

I spoke to Beth Dlug, who runs the Board of Elections, about those mailers and the fact that they contained the names of people who had actually moved out of state years ago.

Dlug herself is perplexed about where the organization got its information. I asked her, though, whether it was possible that a person who had moved years ago might still be listed as a registered voter in Allen County.

I had always been under the impression that voter rolls were periodically purged, and that if a person didn’t vote for a certain period, the person would be removed from the list of registered voters.

That’s not necessarily the case, though.

Dlug, who has been in charge of the Board of Elections for about four years, said she doesn’t know the last time voter rolls were purged.

Purging the rolls, by the way, is an expensive, time-consuming proposition.

Any purge would require sending a letter to every registered voter in the county and asking each to verify his or her address and such. There are more than a quarter-million registered voters in Allen County.

Obviously, preparing a quarter-million letters, stuffing them into a quarter-million envelopes and putting a quarter-million stamps on those envelopes wouldn’t be cheap.

A lot of people, though, don’t necessarily respond to such letters. I, for one, don’t open any piece of mail that doesn’t appear to contain money or a bill. But the board couldn’t just remove someone’s name from the voter rolls for not responding.

At best, the board could only flag names of people who hadn’t responded, and then, if they didn’t vote for a certain period, remove them.

Sounds like an expensive, lengthy process.

One does wonder how many people who now live in Hawaii or Thailand are still listed as residents eligible to vote here.

The state, though, does require that people have a photo ID to vote, which will hopefully prevent some guy from voting in the name of a young girl or old woman who moved away when Bill Clinton was president.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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