RGJ: Washoe County registered voters include hundreds who moved, voted in other states, group says

(Mark Robison | Reno Gazette Journal) – At least a few hundred people have moved from the Reno area, alerted the post office about their move, registered to vote elsewhere and voted in their new states — yet they are still on Washoe County’s list of registered voters.

That’s according to research sent this week to Washoe County’s registrar of voters, Cari-Ann Burgess, by the Nevada nonprofit Citizen Outreach Foundation.

A spreadsheet lists the voters' full names with middle initials, birthdates, date they filed a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service, their Nevada voter ID number, the ID number given for acceptance of their address change and their new address.

The public policy group has sent “Moved, Registered, Voted” research to 10 of Nevada’s 17 county election officials.

The president of Citizen Outreach Foundation, Chuck Muth, emphasized that he’s not being critical of election officials — he thinks they’re complying with federal law on voter-roll maintenance and just wants to help.

“I’ve heard from the election officials, ‘We like what you're doing, we just don’t have the staff to do this work,’” he said. “That’s fine. We’re using new technology. We’ll do the work for you — and we’re not asking you to take our word for it.”

Along with the letter to election officials is a second spreadsheet, this one with official sources and contacts for all the information being submitted so it can be verified.

Response to the voter roll information

“There are important state and federal laws that counties must follow to prevent disenfranchisement,” the Nevada secretary of state’s office said by email when asked about the Citizen Outreach Foundation data.

It pointed out that Nevada law provides two paths for canceling a voter's registration based on third-party information related to address changes:

• It must comply with the National Voter Registration Act by being “nondiscriminatory” and not targeting specific types of voters.
• Or the person reporting the address change must have personal knowledge, such as being the address's new occupant.

Muth said his group's data complies with the first path.

The secretary of state's office also said its new Voter Registration & Election Management Solution project, expected to go live soon, “will significantly modernize our elections – giving voters more transparency into the process and allowing us to update our voter rolls faster and with more accuracy.”

Washoe County election spokesperson George Guthrie said there's a legal procedure in place to challenge the residency and eligibility of a voter.

He mentioned a recent lawsuit by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which said it found numerous voters who registered using a business address, which is generally not allowed under Nevada law.

In response to the Public Interest Legal Foundation lawsuit, Washoe County said it’s required by state law to get permission to investigate information not from official sources.

“These third-party efforts to remove voters do not follow those procedures, and it's important for voters to know that we follow the law,” Guthrie said Thursday.

“It is a voter’s responsibility to update their registration by notifying our office, and without their consent, there are extensive steps defined by statute that must be taken before we can make any changes that would affect their ability to vote.”

Response to Washoe County

Muth said the county is correct that it’s not required to act on the information his group has shared, but that it may act without commission approval, unlike in the business-address lawsuit.

Public Interest Legal Foundation supplied its own research that registered voters did not live at the addresses it gave the county.

Muth’s group used the Nevada secretary of state’s database of registered voters and the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address database, both of which are considered trustworthy sources not requiring special approval for election officials to use.

“We're handing it to you on a silver platter,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is verify that the information we're giving you is reasonable and reliable.”

Why Washoe County’s voter-maintenance process didn’t catch names on list

The county and the state already use the USPS change-of-address database to update voter rolls.

The reason the 364 names Muth’s group provided were not caught by this process, he said, is that the change-of-address database only keeps names for six months.

“Unless you resubmit another change-of-address form — and most people don’t do that — the post office is not going to forward that back to the election department,” Muth said.

That means election offices often don’t find out that someone moved unless they happened to try to contact the voter within six months of their move.

The only way to learn of moves outside of that first six months is to search the USPS change-of-address database — something not required of election officials by federal election law. But it is what Muth’s volunteer group did.

“There are flaws in the law and cracks in the system,” he said. “People are still on the lists that shouldn't be because of those flaws.”

His group is not asking election departments to remove anyone from the voter rolls.

Instead, he said, it's asking election officials to send out a verification postcard that the voter must return to confirm their registration.

“If they don’t within 33 days, they’re moved to inactive” in the voter-registration database, Muth said.

No claims of widespread voter fraud in Nevada elections

The foundation’s research of tens of thousands of voters who have moved from Nevada has uncovered only one person who seems to have voted in their new state and Nevada — which is illegal. It was reported to the secretary of state’s office.

But Muth wants to decrease the potential for fraudulent votes, like that of Las Vegas Republican Donald “Kirk” Hartle.

Hartle claimed that someone fraudulently voted using his dead wife’s ballot — a claim promoted by the Nevada Republican Party as an example of election integrity issues. An investigation found it was actually Hartle who'd cast the fraudulent vote.

“What we don't want,” Muth said, “is to have ballots going out to people who don’t live there anymore. We want to stop the potential of a ballot like Hartle’s ending up in the wrong hands and possibly being voted illegally.”

He also doesn’t want Nevadans to think his group’s work is intended as a criticism of how election officials are doing their jobs.

“At this point, we're not critical of them at all,” Muth said.  “This is a new problem that we've brought to their attention. And if they address it, great. Everybody's going to be happy. The voter files will be cleaned up better, faster, quicker, easier, and everybody can have a better sense of security that the voter files are clean.”

Mark Robison is the state politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. Click here to access the original article.

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