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Voting list snafu causes problems in Marion County:
Some voters have been turned away because their names may have been erroneously purged from the rolls.
By Jason Thomas and Tom Spalding. Indystar.com. November 2, 2004

Registered voters in Marion County have been turned away from area polling sites today because their names were mistakenly purged from poll books an error election and state officials are feverishly working to fix.

Up to 3,376 names of Indianapolis residents were removed from the list because they were thought to be dead even though many could still be alive. Marion County officials were acting based on a list issued by Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita.

However, the list came with a warning that the names should be checked before anyone was removed from the list.

Some residents who had voted at polling sites for decades were being turned away by precinct inspectors today because their names were not listed on the poll books.

At some precincts, voters were being allowed to cast a ballot and then were issued a "certificate of error," so officials could try to figure out whether they were eligible.

But precinct inspectors had to call the Marion County voters registration headquarters to file the certificate, which at times took up to 45 minutes, causing people to wait and longer lines to form, according to Scott Chinn.

"The problem is, from a voter's perspective, because of the volume, it's taking a really long time," said Chinn, who is the city attorney for Indianapolis and is acting as a Democratic election watcher.

(Anyone who has been turned away because of this, or any other problem, is asked to call The Star at 444-6000.)

The problem was first noticed about 6:30 a.m., and calls to a special hotline began to mushroom. Marion County voter registration officials and county election officials hurriedly met with party leaders just after 10 a.m. to try to remedy the problem.

It caught many people by surprise causing a media frenzy in the west wing of the City-County Building both at the Voter Registration headquarters and the separate Marion County Election Board, which is across the hall.

"We had no idea," said Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler, who said it was not her agency's fault.

Kyle Walker, a Republican on the Marion County Board of Voters Registration, said officials with his office were studying what went wrong.

The problem goes back to July, when the Rokita's office sent a thick packet that listed the names of people to the Marion County voter registration office in a legitimate effort to purge deceased voters.

The secretary of state?s office sent all counties in the state a list of over 54,000 people who were possibly deceased but still on voter rolls, said Kate Shepherd, spokeswoman for the agency.

The list was compiled by matching names of registered voters with the names of deceased people obtained from the Social Security Administration.

The matches were given a percentage score indicating the likelihood that the two people were the same. Names that included matching middle initials and matching Social Security numbers were given higher percentages.

Marion County voter registration personnel apparently began deleting the names without checking the scores.

Officials purged people with last names ranging from "A" through "L" before stopping. They stopped because people listed as dead had voted in the primary, said Mike Murphy, the Marion County Republican party chairman.

To fix the mistake, officials were photocopying the list and trying to distribute it to the 914 precincts in Marion County. However, one glitch was that officials can't reach all the inspectors many don't have cell phones. And some couriers have been unreachable. Also, those who were not on the poll books were automatically being given a "certificate of error," as long as they provided adequate identification.

"It's pretty bizarre," said Marion County Democratic party chairman Ed Treacy. "Now we're trying to get some kind of handle on the situation and how to fix it."

The issues involving live people listed as dead was the biggest of the blunders facing officials on this Election Day, which has attracted huge turnout and long lines at many precinct polling places.

In addition to the "dead list," an untold number of people discovered their names weren't on precinct poll books even though they were registered to vote because of problems in the registration process.

Election officials were provided with a packet several pages thick of voters who were not on the poll books because they registered using an old card that was ruled unusable but was later approved.

"It was too late to get them into the system," Walker said. "The poll books were already printed."

Gina Golden, 32, went to the Herron School of Art at IUPUI at 8:30 a.m. but found she couldn't vote because her name wasn't on the list. She had to go to the voter registration office at the City-County Building. She had registered to vote with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles but then had changed addresses. At 9:45 a.m. after straightening things out, she was headed back to her precinct.

"I'm not mad," said Golden, who is an artist and is hearing-impaired. "My vote better count because I'm missing work."

Despite the confusion, Walker said things are under control.

"It's an unfortunate situation that we wish wouldn't have happened," Walker said. "But at the same time, people are getting to vote. I think that's what matters."

Despite Walker's assurance, at election headquarters literally across the hall officials weren't as convinced.

Steve Eichholtz, election vice chairman with the Marion County Election Board, held the thick list of names. "We've got a whole list of people we've got to tell inspectors that they can vote," he said.

Also, hotline volunteers fielded complaints about malfunctioning optical scan machines at some of the 914 precincts in Marion County. A contingency plan is in place should there be problems, such as an electrical blackout. The machines are capable of running on batteries, Sadler said.

Voting in Marion County started promptly at 6 a.m., although two of the 914 polling sites were tardy. One opened at 6:18 a.m., another at 6:40 a.m.

There was no unofficial count of voter turnout yet, but based on the phone calls flooding into a hotline today, "It is extraordinary volume so far," said Sadler.

Republican candidate for governor Mitch Daniels voted before sunrise today at St. Simon the Apostle School, near his home on the far northeastside of Indianapolis. Gov. Joe Kernan, a Democrat, voted at St. Joseph's High School in his hometown of South Bend.

Daniels said it was ?swamped? where he voted, and had been told that was true elsewhere. ?That?s good,? he said. ?I was really encouraged how many young people were there to greet me. That?s a great sign, too.?

Terry Burns, spokesman for state Democrats, said it was still early, but it seemed to be a heavy turnout, especially in Central Indiana. ?It?s not uncommon for lines of 50 to 100 people,? he said. ?The weather doesn?t appear to be a factor. Even with this rain, we?re getting a heavy turnout, especially in Marion County.?

He also said poll workers had reported heavy turnout in northwest Indiana and the southern part of the state.

The clerk's office in the City-County Building Downtown was abuzz as a bi-partisan team of 100 deputy election commissioners were getting ready to transport 27,000 absentee ballots from Downtown to their proper precincts, said Bill Brown, who supervises absentee votes.

Dave Osborn, 45, of Indianapolis, a Republican, said today he voted last week an unusual experience that many people took advantage of.

Osborn, a member of the Healthy Optimistic Positive Experience a support group for people with AIDS hopes citizens ignore the inch of rainfall that fell since midnight and go vote.

"Absolutely, it's important to volunteer, and it's important to vote," he said.

"Even for people who say they don't really want to vote, they need to have a voice," added Doug Hughes, 44, who is disabled. Hughes, a Democrat, is not only voting today, he is in a wheelchair and one of the deputy commissioners who is escorting the absentee ballots.

This year is the first time Marion County's $11.1 million optical-scan voting machines will be used in a general election for governor and president.

Those voters, Republican Sadler said, should feel confident.

"Our elections have been very accurate, even with the problems that we've had," she said. "We've had recount after recount showing that we have accurate results."

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