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(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Election watchdog raises alarm over duplicate voter registrations

The head of a Maryland elections watchdog organization said a new study by her group raises concerns about the number of voters who are registered to vote in both Maryland and Virginia as well as a small number who apparently voted in each state in 2012.

Cathy Kelleher, president of Elections Integrity Maryland, said her organization, in cooperation with a Virginia elections organization, identified 43,983 voters who were registered in both states. Of those, the groups say that 164 voters cast ballots in both states in the 2012 presidential elections.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work and getting no answers,” Kelleher said. “We’re very anxious to find out what Maryland is doing. Are they going to prosecute? Will they prosecute in Maryland or in Virginia?

“We think the citizens of Maryland have a right to know that people are committing fraud and taking away their rights to vote and to a fair election,” Kelleher said.

Officials at the Maryland State Board of Elections say they have not yet been able to fully verify the records identified by Elections Integrity Maryland but say they are working with elections officials in Virginia — a process slowed by ongoing elections in both states.

Mary Cramer Wagner, director of voter registration and petitions at the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the board is reviewing the work of Kelleher’s group in conjunction with Virginia elections officials. That effort has been delayed because of laws that freeze voting records during an election year.

“In working with Virginia, we’re letting them take the lead because Elections Integrity gave that state the records first,” Wagner said. “We’re taking this seriously.”

A similar review of irregularities involving voters registered in Florida took about six months, she said.

The state and local board of elections have routinely audited elections looking for Maryland residents who have voted more than once. Those audits only identify in-state duplicate voters.

Three years ago, Maryland became a charter member of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a cooperative of 10 states and Washington, D.C., focused on reducing the incident of voters registering to vote in multiple states. Virginia is also a member.

Between July 9, 2013 and April 24, 2014 — the last three reporting periods for which complete data is available — local boards of elections in Maryland were able to identify 18,950 voters who appeared to be registered in Maryland and at least one member state, according to Electronic Registration Information Center statistics provided by the state board of elections.

Wagner said the review by the organization, which combines state voter records with motor vehicle and Social Security death records, is meant to help member states develop the cleanest voter registration rolls possible.

“It seems to be working,” Wagner said.

Wagner said it’s difficult to know how many of the nearly 19,000 voters responded to correspondence requesting updated residency information.

Those who do not respond are moved to an inactive status and ultimately removed from the voter rolls if the person fails to vote in the next two federal elections — a process that takes approximately 4 years to complete, according to Wagner.

Until recently, prosecution of those who voted twice or fraudulently has been difficult. In 2010, the Office of the State Prosecutor sent a letter to state lawmakers saying it lacked the budget to investigate and prosecute nearly 200 people suspected of voting more than once during the 2008 elections.

“A lot of things have changed since (that report),” said Nikki Charlson, state deputy elections administrator.

Charlson said the board works now to identify only those who intentionally voted twice and refer those cases to the state prosecutor.

In 2013, Wendy Rosen pleaded guilty to having voted in both Maryland and Florida in the 2006 and 2010 general elections. Rosen, who was the Democratic nominee for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District in 2012, was forced to withdraw from the campaign. She was sentenced to concurrent suspended terms of one-year in jail as well as five years of probation, a $5000 fine and 500 hours of community service.

That same year, the state prosecutor secured independent indictments and guilty pleas from a Frederick County woman and a Montgomery County woman. Both women cast ballots using the names of their respective mothers, who were both dead at the time of the 2012 general election.