In a preliminary hearing Tuesday, the Wake County Board of Elections upheld 12 of 386 challenges to voters alleged deceased by a local organization. Those 12 will move forward to a full hearing; the rest have been removed from voter rolls.
Members of the Voter Integrity Project officially submitted 386 challenges earlier this month after finding those names on death lists and other information provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Register of Deeds.
During Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, Board of Elections Deputy Director Gary Sims said elections staff reviewed the list of challenges and confirmed the deaths of 374 voters, who were subsequently removed. Elections board members agreed the challenges are moot and voted to dismiss them.
Board of Elections member Josh Howard told Voter Integrity Project Executive Director Jay DeLancy the dismissal is not a negative, but simply a procedural necessity in this case.
“You have set into motion the cleaning of Wake County’s rolls and you have achieved that,” he said.
Twelve of the challenges could not be verified, Sims said, by means allowed by law for elections staff members. Sims said that does not mean the remaining 12 are alive, only that elections staff members are limited by law in what information they can use to determine death.
Death must be confirmed by a near-relative’s signature or a death certificate. Sims said he has sent letters to families of those 12 voters, but none have responded and some letters have been returned as undeliverable.
“It’s not saying Mr. DeLancy is wrong,” he said. “We are limited by that it has to be an exact match.”
Sims also commended Voter Integrity Project members Jay DeLancy and John Pizzo, who spent weeks combing records to produce the list.
“Using a list like this from an administrative standpoint is priceless,” he said.” It accomplishes what we want to accomplish.”
DeLancy’s string of recent voter challenges also led to more data availability for future roll purges, Sims said.
The challenges prompted the Wake County Board of Elections staff to inquire at the State Board of Elections about what information they can and cannot use. In July, State Board of Elections members granted county election boards the use of information from the Register of Deeds office — data Wake’s election staff members thought was not allowed for official use. Until that change, they had relied solely on death lists provided by the Vital Statistics Division of DHHS.
In addition, Wake Board of Elections staff installed software last week enabling them to search the Register of Deeds information when conducting regular checks or purges of the voter rolls. The software license was $3,000.
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The voter challenges also brought to light difficulties when managing voters who die in another state. For example, one of the 12 voters who could not be removed likely died in Virginia.
DHHS lists no longer include out-of-state death information. State Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett has written a letter to DHHS requesting that information once again be included.
Sims said staff members found an obituary online, but that information is not official and cannot be used to remove a voter from the rolls. When staff asked Virginia officials to provide official death information, they were told it is not made public for 25 years. After that, it is available for a $25 fee.
“That is where we’re at,” Sims said.
Tuesday’s hearing was meant to determine whether enough proof was available to have a full hearing on the challenges. Board members voted 2-1 to proceed with a full hearing on the remaining 12 voters.
“I think he’s carried his burden of proof,” said Elections Board Chair Aida Doss Havel.
“While they may not need to press as to these 12, probable cause has been established, and if they wish to pursue it, that is their statutory right,” Howard said.
The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16.
DeLancy agreed he will withdraw his challenges before that date if he can provide proof to elections staff and remove those 12 without the extra process of a hearing.
Afterward, he told the Record he is excited about the outcome.
“We’re happy that this board takes the removal of dead people from the rolls more seriously than it does the removal of non-citizens,” he said, referring to a hearing last week for challenges to non-citizens. “As you heard, there are things they’ve learned because of our challenges, as much of a pain in the neck as we have had to be.”
He said “hats off” to Wake County for its hard work, because despite some fears that dead people vote, it does not appear to be the case here. That may not be the case in other North Carolina counties, he said, where he and his research team will continue submitting challenges.
“At the end of the day, people can think what they want to think about any partisan goals, but the bottom line is we want a clean system,” he said. “It’s a bunch of volunteers just trying to make a difference. We don’t win them all, but so far so good on this one.”