Inbox (Almost) Zero: Ohio Clears Voter Rolls of Duplicates

Inbox-Zero.jpg

[Image courtesy of backpocketcoo]

The Ohio Secretary of State’s office announced yesterday that it had helped county boards of election eliminate virtually every duplicate voter record in advance of the 2013 general election. Cleveland.com has more:

Efforts to clean up Ohio’s database of 7.7 million registered voters succeeded in eliminating all but four duplicate entries for this election cycle, the secretary of state’s office said Tuesday.

Secretary of State Jon Husted has touted his office’s efforts to improve the voter database since he took office. The database, which was established in 2004, contained more than 340,000 duplicate records in January 2011.

“Maintaining accurate and up-to-date voter rolls is an ongoing process that is important in helping to ensure greater security and more efficiency in the administration of elections in Ohio,” Husted said.

While state-to-state voter record matching has gotten a lot of attention in other states like Virginia, Ohio has focused largely on using other in-state information at its disposal:

State and county elections officials compare points of information — name, birth date, driver license number — to try to determine if the duplicate registrations are indeed for the same voter and to eliminate the out-of-date registration.

The system has some built-in corrective tools the state uses to help keep it up to date, too.

For example, since 2011 the state has removed nearly 245,000 Ohioans who were verified as deceased.

“Because of our efforts and because of the efforts of the local county board of elections, we’ve been able to take a database that two and a half years ago had 340,000 duplicate records on it and in that two and a half years we’ve effectively gotten it down to zero,” [Husted spokesman Matt] McClellan said.

Moreover, thanks to the state’s new system allowing voters to check and update their records, the rolls now feature more complete entries as well:

In the meantime, the percentage of files with complete data on individual voters has risen. Only 20 percent of the voter information files were complete in 2011. That figure now is at 86 percent.

What’s most impressive about this effort is that the state understands that (notwithstanding my goofy title and the image above) “inbox zero” is almost impossible for voter registration because the voter rolls are always changing with voters’ lives:

Duplicate records are easy to get in the database because there are so many ways information can be introduced, said Matt McClellan, a Husted spokesman. A voter might go online and register a new address and the old address remains on the books or the name on a driver license might not exactly match the name on the voter registration application (The Bureau of Motor Vehicles feeds information to the database).

For that reason, the number of duplicate entries is always changing.

“You have four on there ahead of this year’s general election,” McClellan said. “It’s not going to stay at that number. It’s going to flux. … The statewide voter database is a living document.

“If we take another look at it in a month or so, we’re going to probably have more duplicates on there.”[emphasis added]

There is, of course, always more to do. Not surprisingly, Husted critic and likely 2014 opponent State Sen. Nina Turner (D) wants the state to work on opening access as well: “I’m sure that Ohioans would enjoy seeing Secretary Husted pursue increasing access to the polls with the same zeal he demonstrates for removing voters from the rolls.”

Still, the state’s effort to eliminate duplicates – which so far has managed to avoid “purge” controversies like those in Florida and elsewhere – is an approach that other states and jurisdictions may want to emulate. If nothing else, the understanding that “inbox zero” is guideline, not a goal, and that voter rolls are always changing is an important concept to keep in mind.

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