Group's voter registration mailing to deceased woman causes concern in Dexter Township
A Washington, D.C.,-based group raised suspicions this past week for mailing voter registration materials to a deceased Washtenaw County resident.
Dexter Township Clerk Harley Rider said a concerned resident reached out to his office about the incident. With a little investigation, they were able to figure out the mailing came from a nonprofit group called the Voter Participation Center.
"When I first got it, it sounded suspicious," Rider said. "But after looking into it, it doesn't appear to be a case where they're purposely trying to register dead people to vote. They're just not careful in collecting their data. I don't see it as intentional fraud."
A spokesperson for the Voter Participation Center said the group regretted the incident, but added that it cannot pre-screen individuals on its mailing lists, given that it sends out literally hundreds of thousands of registration packets annually. The spokesperson said the center gets its mailing lists from a national commercial vendor and everything it does is within the law.
The mailing showed up at the home of Deb and Henry Alvarez. But it was addressed to another person — Henry Alvarez's deceased wife, Josee.
"She never lived at this address and she's been dead 16 years, and it was asking her to register to vote," Deb Alvarez said. "This is how voter fraud happens."
Henry Alvarez called the mailing disturbing.
"It just doesn't seem appropriate that they're sending out that sort of material to register people who are no longer alive," he said. "I don't know who they are. I'm just suspicious of the mailing. I really think sending out this kind of material to register someone who is deceased, and it's not even an address they've ever lived at, should be off limits."
According to the Voter Participation Center's web site, it's a nonpartisan group dedicated to increasing participation of unmarried women — including women who are single, widowed, divorced or separated — and other historically underrepresented groups in democracy.
"From what I can tell from the Secretary of State's Office, it is a legitimate organization," Rider said. "They just get a variety of mailing lists and send out solicitations. But the person they sent it to here has been dead for 16 years."
Rider said it seems the group is acquiring mailing lists of people who aren't registered to vote and then doing "sloppy crosschecking" before mailing out registration materials.
Even a quick Google search for Josee Alvarez would have turned up the fact that she's deceased and that there's a memorial fund established in her name.
Rider said he was concerned that somebody could have filled out the voter registration form and mailed it in and then tried to vote on Election Day.
Even if something like that happened, Rider said, the person still would have to show ID at the polls, so it would have been difficult to commit voter fraud.
"In Dexter Township, I know my poll workers are very diligent on that," Rider said. "I can't vouch for how it would be in the more urban, busier districts. Certainly there's a chance it could sneak by. On a busy election day, things could sneak through the cracks."
A report by the Pew Center on the States this year found more than 1.8 million dead people are registered to vote in the U.S. and 24 million registrations are invalid or inaccurate.
Experts say there's little evidence that has led to widespread voter fraud, but it has raised concerns that the system is vulnerable.
Rider said fortunately Michigan is "probably lightyears ahead of other places" in the country when it comes to eliminating the possibility of voter fraud.