[Image courtesy of galleryhip]
One of the things I love the most about election administration is that, behind all of the laws and technology, the process is still deeply and intensely human. I was reminded of that by a story in today’s New York Post that reveals that some voter records list strange birthdates because some people simply don’t like to reveal how old they are:
A single Bronx voter listed in official records as being 164 years old led Board of Elections officials to review their files — where they turned up another 849 New Yorkers who were supposedly alive when Abe Lincoln was president.
The stunning discovery came after The Post reported last week that the birth date of Luz Pabellon, a spry 73-year-old who has been living and voting in The Bronx since the 1970s, was recorded as Jan. 1, 1850.
This week, a search of the records in all five boroughs found 849 more voters with the same wacky birth date.
The issue is traceable to that thoroughly human tendency to deflect or refuse to answer questions about one’s age:
Board officials chalked up the implausible age snafu to previous practices that allowed residents not to provide their exact birthdays when registering to vote.
Some of the new voters — mostly women — simply wrote that they were “21+” — above the legal voting age.
There was a reason to be vague. Voter registration records are open to the public, so anyone with the inclination can discover the real age of anyone in the files.
“It’s a left-over vestige from a bygone era,” explained Board of Elections executive director Mike Ryan.
The magic number of 164 is purely an artifact of an arbitrary date chosen to flag such missing records in the system:
“They were all listed as age 164. This was no accident. It’s a little quirk in the system. It’s not widespread,” [Ryan] added, noting there are more than 4 million registered voters.
The board switched to computerized databases in 1999 and 2006.
To comply with state rules, election officials were required to write in a specific date of birth for all voters — or remove them from the rolls.
Officials twice sent out notices imploring the 164-year-olds to provide their real birth dates.
Most ignored the requests.
Since they registered under the old system, the board grandfathered them and listed 01/01/1850 as their DOBs in the electronic voting rolls.
And that’s where things still stand as of today.
Newer New York voters (those who registered after 2006) don’t have the option to mask their age, and will be declared ineligible if they don’t provide a true birthdate. But for the pre-2006 voters, the challenge of identifying birthdays will continue:
During a meeting Tuesday, Board of Election commissioners and Ryan discussed ways to fix the age-old [Pun intended? Please say yes – ed.] problem. They discussed sending out another letter pleading for the real dates of birth or even having staffers try to contact the 850 by telephone.
To prevent fraud, officials would still need a written statement from voters certifying their age, even if they divulge it over the phone.
Ryan said the matter will be revisited after the Nov. 4 election.
Problems like this may begin to ease as more jurisdictions use data-matching with other databases – but for now, those “ageless” New Yorkers will remain on the rolls.
For them, let me be the first to with them a Happy 165th Birthday this New Year’s Day.