EDITOR'S NOTE -- The headline on this story originally read "Dead voters cast ballots in Dallas County." Texas Watchdog's subsequent reporting showed that most of those instances were clerical errors. For more on our follow-up reporting on Dallas County voters, click here.
DALLAS -- Widow Erma Porter sought help from Dallas County elections officials after she learned someone may have used her late husband Melvin's name to vote -- more than a year after his death.
Porter (pictured at left) suffered a stroke and died in January 2007, but voting records indicate he cast a ballot in the March 4 Democratic primary held this year.
An elections official removed Melvin Porter's name from the rolls Monday, the same day Erma Porter came to the elections office, and said workers would be alerted by the county's computer system if anyone tried to use Melvin Porter's name to vote early or on Election Day.
But questions remain about more than 6,000 other registered voters whose personal information -- names and dates of birth -- matches that found in federal listings of deceased people. Texas Watchdog identified the records by reviewing the Social Security Administration's death records alongside the Dallas County voter rolls. (Click here to search the database.)
Erma Porter worries that such flaws in the system make it easier for someone to commit voter fraud.
"He probably wouldn't believe it," Erma Porter said of her husband's reaction. Born in Calvary, Texas, Melvin Porter was a retired truck driver and a Dallas Cowboys fan who married Erma in 1991 in Las Vegas. They lived on Scyene Road in South Dallas. (Pictured below: Erma and Melvin Porter.)
"I just can't believe it. It's just unreal," Erma Porter said. "Why would someone do a dead person like this?"
Texas Watchdog found similar problems in Harris County's voting records earlier this month. Since then, a number of states have been dealing with accusations of voter registration fraud against the community group ACORN, whose workers' alleged missteps included submitting registrations -- in Nevada -- for players for the Dallas Cowboys.
Tuesday's election here will see voters choose a president, a U.S. senator and a county sheriff, among other local and state races.
"This is probably the most important election any of us in this country will ever be involved in," said voter Larry Marbry, 50. He moved from Texas to North Carolina about a year ago and has followed the Harris County dead voters story online. "This is very, very disturbing because it undermines the whole process of having a legitimately elected representative government."
Marbry supports a national voter ID law, a subject of fierce debate between those who, like him, believe it would curb voter fraud and others who feel it would discourage the poor from voting. Twenty-four states require voters to present identification before voting, including seven that require a photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Texas requires identification, which may be a driver's license, passport, official mail from the government or a utility bill, among other options.
Official: Problems may reflect clerical errors
When dead people show up in the records as voting, it typically reflects a clerical error, not fraud, a Dallas County elections official said.
Danny Clayton, supervisor of voter registration for the county, has been with the office 18 years and said he's only seen a handful of similar cases.
"It's only happened four or five times," Clayton said. "And in every instance, it was a clerical error on our end. It was nobody that tried to vote fraudulently."
The elections office removes voters based on matching them with probate records from the county clerk -- they get a monthly update -- and state death records, which they check weekly.
(At left: Click on the map to see the precincts where the 6,000 voters are registered.)
Clayton said his office receives two lists weekly from the Secretary of State's office.
One list contains voters whose names, birthdates and Social Security numbers match death records from the Department of State Health Services. Those voters are removed from the rolls immediately, Clayton said.
A second list contains voters whose information raises questions, but not enough to remove them without further investigation. For example, their name, birthdate and address may match the death record, but it may not contain a Social Security number.
"We don't automatically delete them," he said. "It's almost got to be a 100 percent match before I'm going to take somebody off the roll."
Clayton noted there's also a protocol for deleting voters if they don't respond to letters asking them to update their information, and many dead voters are removed this way.
They also investigate and remove voters based on inquiries from family members.
Even if clerical errors are at the root of these problems, experts have said that doesn't make the potential for voter fraud any less real.
Potential fraud may be as controversial in Dallas County as anywhere else in Texas. Dallas has become a beachhead for Democrats in the Lone Star state, since that party took control there in 2006. Led by attorney and Democrat financier Fred Baron, millions of Democratic dollars poured into local races. Republicans are fighting just as fiercely to retake control.
6,000 enough to sway some elections
The 6,000 voters found by Texas Watchdog amount to less than a percent of Dallas County's more than 1.2 million registered voters.
But elections have been decided by fewer votes:
* By 253 votes, Democrat Roberto Canas Jr. defeated Republican Lisa Fox in November 2006 for a county criminal court post.
* In March of this year, Bob Romano defeated Jim Rea by 291 votes to win the Democratic nomination for state House District 105.
* George W. Bush actually won Florida by 1,665 votes in 2000, according to a hand recount after the election commissioned by USA Today, the Miami Herald and Knight Ridder.
The voters whose names were used to cast ballots were found in various neighborhoods, from Duncanville to Mesquite and from Richardson to South Dallas, in nearly 600 precincts.
Among them: a retired serviceman and cement finisher, Howard Ingram, of Foley Street near Fair Park. Ingram's widow, Sherri Adams, said she knew of no one who would try to use Ingram's information to vote but that she'd had other problems since his death. Adams said she'd received bills in Ingram's name that she can't explain and suspects someone has stolen his identity.
Ingram (pictured at left) died in September 2006, but records show that he voted in the March Democratic primary.
Howard Ingram served in the U.S. Army from 1951-58, attaining the rank of sergeant, and worked in Los Angeles before moving to Dallas. He died at age 75 of a blood disorder, Adams said.
"He walked with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X," Adams said. "He was a fighter, and he went to the Army because he knew that was the best thing for a black man at that time."
If Ingram knew of his name being used to vote, "he'd be trying to see what he could do to prosecute," she said.
(At left: Imani Ingram, 11, holds the flag presented by the military to his family at his father Howard Ingram's funeral.)
Two Harris County voters taken off rolls
The issue of dead voters has come up before.
A November 2007 state audit found records of more than 23,000 registered voters who may have died. The Secretary of State's office says those cases have been investigated.
In Harris County, elections officials have cancelled the registrations for Linda K. Hill, of Woodwick Street, and Gloria Guidry, of Dixie Drive, said Michelle Carnahan, chief analyst in the tax assessor/voter registrar's office. The action came after Texas Watchdog's investigation earlier this month. Hill and Guidry's names were used to vote after their deaths, records showed.
Harris County elections officials say they have not undertaken a full review of the more than 4,000 names Texas Watchdog found in its investigation.
The office would like to review the names after Election Day is over, said George Hammerlein, director of voter registration.
How we reported the story
Deaths are recorded by the federal Social Security Administration. We obtained the database of death records through the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, a program of the nonprofit Investigative Reporters and Editors and the University of Missouri School of Journalism. The database does not include people who die without ever having a Social Security number.
We compared the federal records (1937 through June of this year) to Dallas County's records of registered voters as of early September (kept by the county elections department). At that point there were more than 1.1 million voters on the rolls, though there are more than 1.2 million now.
We looked for people whose names — first, last and middle — and dates of birth matched. There were more than 3,600 cases where all fields matched exactly.
Then we added instances where all fields matched exactly except the middle names, which were close matches.
An initial like "J" in one database could match a middle name like "John" in the other. We found about 1,250 records that were like this.
We considered a blank middle name in one database as a possible match with a completed middle name in the other. And we considered blank middle names in both databases with matches on everything else possible matches. There were almost 1,600 that fell into these categories.
We also considered possible misspellings or typos, like a middle name of "John" in one database and middle name of "Jhon" in the other. There were about 250 like this.
Our search yielded more than 6,000 matches, or voters who may be dead. Click here to see the database. If you see someone who you know is deceased, or who is alive, please let Texas Watchdog know by commenting to this post (below) or e-mailing us at email@example.com. We will forward the information to Dallas County elections officials and to the Texas Secretary of State.
We looked closer at those records to see whether those voters showed up as voting after their death. We took into consideration that they may have cast a legitimate ballot by voting early even if they died before the day of the election. We examined elections since the March 2004 primary.
Texas Watchdog sought interviews with relatives of voters who voted after their death, according to the records. We reached relatives of Melvin Porter and Howard Ingram, as well as relatives of two other voters who declined to be interviewed but confirmed their loved ones had died. Several people were not home when Texas Watchdog dropped by, and at least one address was an assisted living facility where the voter's address could not be verified.
Some of the more than 6,000 people may not be dead.
In the method Texas Watchdog used, matching first, last and middle names and dates of birth, two people with a common name born on the same day could be confused for each other.
Two examples: Texas Watchdog interviewed voters Shirley Ann Jackson, of Pennsylvania Avenue, and Simon Delarosa, of Barclay Street, whose name and dates of birth matched but whose Social Security numbers did not. That indicates another Shirley Jackson born on the same day who died after living in Texas, but who is not this Shirley Jackson of Dallas County. The same is true for Delarosa.
Errors in the federal death records may point to dead people when they are, in fact, alive. The Social Security Administration itself says there may be errors in its death records.
Click here to search Texas Watchdog's database of voter matches.
FOLLOW-UP: Polling place books may hold clues in mystery of Dallas County’s dead voters: Texas Watchdog plans to examine polling place books in the elections where dead people’s names were used to cast ballots. Posted Oct. 30.
FOLLOW-UP: Dallas County: Flagged voters can vote. Posted Oct. 31.
FOLLOW-UP: Clerical errors to blame in two voters’ records, elections chief says: Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet says clerical errors by his department are to blame in two cases of questionable voting activity Texas Watchdog wrote about Thursday. Posted Oct. 31.
FOLLOW-UP: How difficult would it be to rig an election? This fall I moved back to Dallas after being gone for eight months. (Long story.) When I needed a new voter registration card, here is what I had to do: Show up at the Dallas County Elections headquarters and ask for one. Posted Oct. 31.
FOLLOW-UP: Dallas county pledges to review potential dead voters on the rolls Clerical errors explain many of the instances Texas Watchdog found of people recorded as voting after death. Elections officials pledge a review sometime after November of the 6,000 voters that Texas Watchdog found may be deceased but still listed on the rolls.
E-mail Lee Ann O’Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713-366-7979. Texas Watchdog staff writers Matt Pulle and Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report.
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Thursday, 10/30/2008 - 12:39PM
Honestly, it just makes my blood boil. My state of Oklahoma does not require showing i.d. or photo i.d. This is the only way we can tighten-up with the ACORN-types out there.
I heard a legal professional say that she had volunteered to work in the Bush-Kerry campaign. She said after the voters left and the polls closed, election workers VOTED all the no-shows. Despicable!
Fake News Monitor
Thursday, 10/30/2008 - 11:57PM
According to the Dallas Morning News, this report is a bunch of bullshit.....
No one attempted to cast a ballot for Melvin Porter in March 2008. That has now been determined to be a false claim by Texas Watchdog.
from the DMN
...Dallas County elections administrator Bruce Sherbet said the notion that thousands of dead people remain active voters is dubious, and he questioned why the report came so close to Election Day.
"The whole thing would have to be looked at very carefully before you take it at face value," he said of the Texas Watchdog report.
Tuesday, 11/04/2008 - 11:07AM
Today is election day. I went to cast my ballot. When I went in May, I asked if my deceased husband\'s name was still on their records. They informed me it was. I contacted the Dallas County voter registrar, and informed them to please remove. I pulled up on line who was still on the list when the early voting began. Again, I saw my husband\'s name still there. On October 20, 2008, I sent them a letter requesting they remove his name along with a copy of his registration card and a copy of his death certificate. Today, again his name is still there. I was informed by the election judge that it was probably on their list of things to do. And after all this election is over, then it will probably be removed. I am mad as hell.