State mailings erroneously told 20,000 voters they weren't registered

Postcards part of outreach effort to 1.1 million residents

October 11, 2012|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

The State Board of Elections sent about 20,000 postcards that erroneously told registered voters they weren't registered, officials said Thursday.

The mailings were part of an effort to increase voter turnout in the state, said Ross K. Goldstein, deputy administrator of the agency. State officials sent out 1.1 million mailings this fall telling eligible voters they needed to register, but about 2 percent of those postcards were mailed to citizens who were already registered to vote, he said.

"We're confident that the overwhelming majority when to unregistered Maryland citizens," he said.

Still, residents who received the erroneous mailings said they created confusion.

"I was puzzled," said Adrienne Corley, a Baltimore attorney whose grandparents, James, 92, and Annie Corley, 88, received the postcards. "My grandparents have been registered to vote since 1960."

Corley said she called the State Board of Elections and was told her parents were not listed as registered voters. She then called the Baltimore City Board of Elections, who told her there was an error with both of her parents' birth dates.

After fixing the birth dates over the phone, Corley's grandparents were mailed new voter registration cards, she said.

"It was frustrating," said Corley, who worries other elderly residers might get confused or discouraged by the postcards. "Who knows what's going to happen on Election Day?"

Goldstein said the errors arose when officials tried to match up State Board of Elections records with Motor Vehicle Administration records and learned that some names did not match. Errors also occurred when dates of birth were matched up with older voter registration cards, which only included the voter's age.

Goldstein said those inconsistencies created thousands of "false positives" in which election officials thought eligible voters weren't registered when they actually were.

He said 18,000 people have called the state with complaints since the postcards went out in the last week of September and first week of October.

Baltimore resident Clinton Bamberger said he received one of the erroneous mailings after state officials couldn't match up his name on the MVA and elections board lists.

"I wonder why it was sent so close to the election and how many people will not call to correct?" he wrote in an email to The Sun. "And if I had not called would I have been turned away at the polls?"

State officials said the timing of the postcard was designed to be early enough that there is still plenty of time to register to vote, but close enough to the election that people are politically engaged. They say people like Bamberger — anyone who was already registered to vote — is still registered. The mailings were part of an effort to "enfranchise a significant number of the unregistered, but eligible Maryland citizens," officials said. They added that people confused by the mailings should call or check an online database to make sure they are registered to vote.

"People who want to vote obviously saw this as a mistake or called us," Goldstein said. "By and large, voters vote and they're going to make sure they're registered."

Donna J. Duncan, director of the state's election management division, said every registered vote will receive a sample ballot before the election.

"That should be a reminder that they are a registered voter," she said.

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