There’s one group of Texas voters that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton should fear on Tuesday: the dead ones.
This year’s hard fought battle for the White House has prompted Trump to claim the election is “rigged” against him, saying problems range from voter fraud to his concern that nearly 2 million “deceased individuals” across the country will cast ballots for “somebody else” this year.
Texas election officials say that while no database is 100 percent error free, state employees are constantly working to keep the state’s voting rolls up-to-date — and exclusively for Texas voters who are alive.
“We are always trying to manage the list to make sure it’s clean and accurate,” said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Texas Secretary of State. “There’s always a concern. It’s an ongoing effort.
“There’s obviously a higher interest in this issue (this year) because this is a higher interest election.”
Trump has mentioned his worries about invalid voter registrations and deceased voters still on registration lists in speeches, citing a 2012 report about the country’s voter registration system by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The report did note that more than 1.8 million deceased people are listed as voters throughout the country and it stated that around 24 million voter registrations are no longer valid or accurate.
Even though it didn’t say there was any evidence that dead voters are trying to cast ballots, Trump said he’s worried they will.
“People that have died 10 years ago are still voting,” he said during one speech. “More than 1.8 million deceased individuals, right now, are listed as voters.’ Oh, that’s wonderful.
“Well, if they’re gonna vote for me, we’ll think about it, right?” Trump said with a smile. “But I have a feeling they’re not gonna vote for me. Of the 1.8 million, 1.8 million is voting for someone else.”
Political observers say Trump is tapping in to active concerns some voters have about voter fraud.
“Trump is stirring the pot,” said Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, political science professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. “He is also a demagogue, appealing to the passions of the voter and the expense of the collective good.
“He raises this issue because he can encourage people who are predisposed to believe that their fellow Americans are engaged in fraudulent voting (to think) that this is a real problem and, hey, if their preferred candidate wins, it’s because the other side cheated,” he said. “When in doubt, blame the referee. It’s an American tradition.”
Election Day is Tuesday.
In Texas, election officials say voter lists are updated several different ways throughout the year.
County officials may report deaths to the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
In cases of a “strong match” — where a person’s first and last name, social security number and date of birth match that of a deceased person — the voter is removed from the registration list.
If there’s a “weak match,” where that information doesn’t all match up, a letter is sent to the person’s address saying there’s reason to believe he or she is deceased. If there is no response within a month, that person’s name is removed from the list as well. These lists update every week and a half or so and there are ways to put people back on the list if they are wrongly removed, Pierce said.
Another way is comparing master files and social security lists to the Secretary of State registry and database. This happened for the first time in 2012, causing some problems because the names of more than 75,000 Texans ended up on a statewide list that suggested they might be dead — but many were alive and well and stunned.
Because of mass confusion at the time, a state district judge temporarily blocked state election officials from ordering counties to remove names of those people from their lists.
“There were some hiccups,” Pierce said. “Since that initial process, it has been a much easier and cleaner process.”
This method also includes strong and weak matches and requires letters to be sent to potentially dead voters before their names are removed. This method updates the lists every three months or so, Pierce said.
A third way voter rolls are updated is from county officials who know people who have died, and periodically remove them from the voting lists, or when family members notify those officials.
“This is an ongoing effort and something we are looking at continually,” Pierce said. “We haven’t seen a spike that would be alarming this election cycle.”
Trump referenced the Pew report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade,” which pointed out corrections that need to be made to voter lists across the country.
No one is arguing that there’s work to be done updating voting rolls across the country.
But some say it’s not fair to even suggest that dead people are voting.
“The process, whether for the deceased or those who have left one state to register in another, is slow, although it is supposed to be automatic,” Esbaugh-Soha said. “Resources could be added to modernize this system and ensure timely removal of ineligible voters from the rolls.
“But there is the flip side, that if given too much power, government could abuse it and purge the wrong people for the rolls,” he said. “Bureaucratic inefficiency and error is often a criticism levied by conservatives, so it is odd that those who might be opposed to a solution (which would also require money and staff) are the ones raising the largest concerns about the inefficiencies in the system, a system that could be reformed with enough resources.”
It’s not surprising that Trump is making voter fraud allegations, said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University.
But there have long been charges of voter fraud in close elections.
He pointed to the 1948 Texas Democratic primary where “Landslide” Lyndon B. Johnson won a U.S. Senate runoff election after Box 13 — a ballot box filled with votes for Johnson — was found at the last minute in the South Texas town of Alice.
“While it’s easy to paint scenarios about voter fraud — ineligible voters casting their ballots by mail, dead voters still on the rolls casting votes, voting machines being ‘rigged’ to switch votes, or hacking of systems by foreign nations — evidence of such fraud is sparse,” Riddlesperger said.
For any election related questions, call the Tarrant County Elections Office at 817-831-8683.