The mythical dead voter
Surprises eh? According to this web article they poured over records to find 9 thousand or so voters already deceased. Is that a lot? Comes out to about 1% of all registered voters and less than the number of deaths in the county each year. They found "16" of them who actually voted. 16 out of just shy of 900K registered voters in the county. Thats an amazingly good record if WPXI claims their research was thorough. The surprise in the headline is how few dead voters there are, not how many. Yet I bet many who don't read past the headline think this is some huge problem now proven by the story title. 16 voters spread throughout the city can affect virtually no election out there even if they are fraudulent. and even the WPXI story suggests the possible explanation of similar names and sheer clerical error. Not that votes were created, but just misreported.
Here is the deal... if people really are not removed from the voter rolls soon after they are deceased, it would be a fairly hard thing to hide. I am sure there are some limited examples of people who are missed. Remember, people die all the time. If even a small fraction of deceased voters were routinely left on the rolls, it would be a very short time before the voter rolls showed a severe imbalance in the number of older registered voters and what you would expect by looking at the population.I have pointed out this simple graph to people in the past and they still swear every person deceased in the last decade are still on the rolls. Here is a graph of the age distribution of all registered voters in Allegheny County compared to the age distribution of the population. Both are for 2006.
What do I see? At the older age ranges there is a slight difference between the proportion of registered voters compared to the population. Its pretty slight and I tried to quantify how many.. Mostly a guess, but the discrepancy would be consistent with an average delay in getting voters off the rolls of less than 6 months. It really just does not show up.
What is more interesting is the higher registration proportion for the younger voters which may seem counterintuitive, but really isn't. That results because it is a lot harder to purge the local voter rolls of people who just pick up and move away. Thus the apparent discrepancy between the two sets of numbers. Those are the voters who are most likely to be moving in and out all the time, which leads to there being more registered than actually living here. Maybe every time a poll workers sees a rare voter under 40 they should be asked to certify if they still live in their voting district, that is certainly easier than asking people to certify they are still alive.
That problem exists not only for the number of people who move in or out of the county, but for those moving within the county as well. The graph above suggests a far larger problem is not the number of deceased voters on the voter rolls, but people who are still alive but no longer live where they are registered, yet still voting there. Especially in general elections when people want to vote for the top race, things like Prez, Gov of Senator, people who have not had time to re-register will go back to where they used to live to vote. I doubt it is as big an issue for municipal elections, but I have no doubt it happens to some degree. When you add in the fragmentation of the county, you have to believe there are many people voting for municipal officers that are not their own. Given that there is a fairly steady flow of people moving out of the city yet still living in the region, I bet there will be more than a few people voting for mayor tomorrow who do not live in the city and I think it's just as illegal as those mythical dead people voting and as I explain with the graph above, far more likely to actually be happening than votes from the grave.
Why the discrepancy between popular perception and the data. Like I said, I am sure it happens sometimes when someone dies yet does not get removed from the rolls.. that or there is some normal delay for mortality records to make it over to the elections division. So when you go and vote and are looking over the shoulder of the clerk and see some name you know is deceased I bet you over-interpret what you see.. especially given the persistent stories like what was just on WPXI. Its a fun story, but the data just isn't there, as WPXI seems to confirm despite the headline. I bet many of those who are deceased, yet remain on the rolls are people who moved out either seasonally or in recent years and who passed away in some other jurisdiction which makes reconciliation with local voter rolls at least slightly more difficult or delayed.