PHOENIX – Rick LaCourse landed an intriguing assignment: Find out where all the dead people vote.
It was 1988, and the computer programmer whiz from Maryland was tapped by the Republican National Committee to find these so-called “ghost voters.”
It was not a frivolous request. Republicans had not forgotten the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, who defeated Richard Nixon in the closest contest in modern times. Nixon backers urged their candidate to contest the outcome after widespread rumors surfaced that Kennedy supporters had stuffed ballot boxes.
In 1988, LaCourse did find dead voters. In Chicago and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Nobody was surprised, LaCourse told News21.
“Louisiana kept voter information on 3-by-5 cards in shoeboxes. It’s much easier to keep dead people on the voter rolls if you keep them on paper,” LaCourse said.
He figured out, based on all the people older than 100 who voted, that maybe 7 percent of the votes cast in the New Orleans suburb were bogus. It was easy. All somebody had to do was walk the shoebox down the hall and fill out ballots using the names, he reasoned.
Lorraine Minnite, Rutgers University political science professor and author of the book “The Myth of Voting Fraud,” said suspicions about fraud linger.
“There is a kind of lore about corruption in American politics, and people laugh about that,” Minnite said.
But a News21 analysis in 2012 indicated that cases of actual voter fraud, in which a voter impersonates another or deliberately votes more than once, are rare.
Computers are one reason. The 2020 Help America Vote Act required states keep centralized computer records of every voter.
“The systems we use are locked down and constantly monitored. We regularly maintain the list and look for anomalies. If there is ever a peak in the numbers of visits we get, we will analyze it,” said Stuart Holmes, election information system supervisor at the Washington Secretary of State’s Office.
Many voter lists are widely available. That lets fraud-hunters scour the data to find suspicious patterns. The American Civil Rights Union, a conservative group based in Virginia, has sued counties where it found more registered voters than eligible ones.
The suits included one against Walthall County, Mississippi. The county entered a settlement agreement and promised to step up its efforts to scrub the stale registrations.
Dewitt “Dee” Bates is the district attorney for the 14th Judicial District of Mississippi, which includes Walthall County. He told News21 he’s never brought a case of voter fraud in any of the counties in his district.
But Bates has a friend, another prosecutor, who is registered in two counties. He votes in Amite County, but he works in Pike County. His friend, Bates quickly pointed out, only voted once.
“He assumed that when he was registered in one county, he’d be taken off the rolls. That was about a year ago,” Bates said, noting that it’s a typical oversight.
Bates added that many records are still kept on paper and grossly outdated. He knows because the Mississippi courts rely on voter rolls to pick juries. Bates said he has other friends who won’t register to vote because they don’t want to land on a jury.
And then there’s this: A few months ago, Bates had trial coming up. He was going through the list of prospective jurors and one name caught his eye. The woman who was summoned to court was 212 years old.
This story was informed by a source in the Public Insight Network. Share your voting experience here. Come back Aug. 20 to see the full News21 report on “Voting Wars.”