Deadwood on the Voter Rolls

Prodded by the secretary of state, registrars in California's counties have been removing the deadwood from the voters' rolls, action that was overdue. So far the results have been impressive.

Orange County's list of registered voters now stands at 1.16 million, a drop of more than 100,000 from November 1996. Deputy Registrar Don Taylor said the drop in registration came despite an increase in the county's population in that period and the registration of some 60,000 to 100,000 new voters.

Secretary of State Bill Jones, a proponent of updating voting rolls, said the accurate lists allow for a better tally of voter turnout. Rather than having 50% of eligible voters cast ballots in some cases, the truer total would be 60%, Jones said. Higher turnouts could provide extra motivation for voters unsure whether to bother casting a ballot; seeing others demonstrate the importance of voting could have a beneficial influence. Accurate rolls also save the state and counties money, because fewer forms and pamphlets have to be sent.

More important, lists that accurately portray who lives where lessen chances for voter fraud. There is no doubt that someone who moves should vote only from the new address and certainly not from both the new one and the old. Voter fraud was not much heard of until the November 1996 election in which Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) ousted longtime incumbent Robert K. Dornan.

Dornan claimed illegal votes cost him the election, though he never produced persuasive evidence. Local, state and federal inquiries did show a sizable number of questionable ballots cast in Sanchez's district, though not enough to overturn her 984-vote margin even if every single allegedly fraudulent vote was marked for Sanchez.

Still, the problem of fraudulent voting needed to be addressed. To do so, Orange County officials mailed postcards to people who had not voted in the last four federal general elections or local elections. If the cards were returned because they could not be delivered or if people said they wanted to be removed from the lists, their names were deleted.

Similar purges were conducted in other counties. Los Angeles County officials said their efforts cut 5.4% of the names from the rolls; in San Bernardino, more than 15% were moved to the inactive list.

Voting is an important part of democracy. Slipshod voting rolls serve no legitimate purpose. Removing the deadwood has been a good idea; periodic purging of the rolls should continue to ensure that the deadwood does not pile up again.

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