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Not much chance for 'zombie voters' here

Sun Advocate associate editor

While the allegation of "zombie" voters in South Carolina's primary election last month may have been exaggerated, the controversy did draw attention to an ongoing concern of Carbon County Clerk/Auditor Robert Pero and his counterparts across the nation.

"Dead people are a real problem," he says.

Pero is responsible for making sure that the county's list of eligible voters is up-to-date. That's no easy task, given that people are moving in, moving out or heading for the Pearly Gates on a daily basis.

In South Carolina, the state's motor vehicles division did a cross-check of its own records and compared them to voter registration lists. It showed that there were thousands of deceased people being carried on the list of registered voters, and that hundreds had used the names of dead people to vote in the Republican primary.

An investigation since then has shown that the voter fraud was not as bad as alleged, but there were still people on the rolls who weren't living in South Carolina anymore because they weren't living at all.

There are probably a few here in Carbon County in the same situation, Pero says. The imperfection in the records is not the result of lack of effort, however. It's just that it takes time to make sure there are no mistakes. A dead person on the voter list for a period of time is the trade-off to avoid accidentally taking a living person off.

Pero explains that his office goes over obituaries and death notices monthly. That's only part of the process, though. "You can't just take someone off the roll because of something in the paper," he says. County clerks have access to the state's official records of death and those have be to researched for confirmation.

Even then, the clerk's office will call relatives of the deceased to make sure.

"In this area, it's not unheard of for a living person to have the same first, middle and last names as someone who's dead," he adds.

Also, access to state death records is handy only if a person happens to die in Utah.

Pero has hired a part-time worker to keep track of all the comings and goings of eligible voters. Still, there will be some inaccuracy simply because of the time lag involved between a death, the reporting of it, and the confirmation.

There's also slower method of monitoring life-status and eligibility that can affect the living as well as the dead.

One way to get yourself purged from the voting records while still alive is to stay away from the polls for years on end. According to the clerk/auditor, his office keeps track of who votes and who doesn't. If a person misses two election cycles - that's two congressional elections in a row - the county will send a letter asking for a reply. If the letter is returned or unanswered, then the county still has to wait two more years before removing the person from the list.

The point of this lengthy delay is to avoid wrongly disenfranchising any citizen, he says.

While the system is imperfect at any instant in time, Pero states that it would be difficult for someone to commit voter fraud using a deceased person's name. The state requires identification for registration and ID must be shown at the polling place.

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