The Voting Dead: How Big a Problem Are Ballot-Casting Colorado Cadavers?

Last night, a CBS4 investigation about "dead voters casting ballots in Colorado" prompted a response from Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams's office sent out at a highly unusual time: 10:39 p.m.

“While vote fraud is rare, it does indeed occur,” Williams acknowledged in a statement. “Our office is working to ensure all such incidents are prosecuted and that laws and rules are adjusted to make vote fraud as difficult as possible.”

Williams's rush to react makes perfect sense given the history of voter-fraud allegations associated with the office he holds.

As we've reported, Williams's predecessor, fellow Republican Scott Gessler, spent years raising the alarm about illegal voters — a mission voter-advocacy groups characterized as a wild goose chase that was more about suppressing Democratic support than ensuring the integrity of the electoral process.

In October 2012, for instance, Gessler's office announced that a pre-electoral effort to unmask voting scofflaws had resulted in a grand total of fourteen people being purged from the official rolls. Of that fourteen, however, none of them actually voted. A few weeks later, Gessler and company identified 300 more non-citizens illegally registered to vote and pulled another thirty names off the voter rolls. Only seven of the 44 people total voted — four of them Republicans.

CBS4's totals were smaller, likely because its search was focused on the deceased. The station discovered that 78 dead voters were still officially registered to vote, and four of them had done so, albeit several (or more) years ago.

Examples: Colorado Springs's Sara Sosa died in 2009 but somehow managed to cast ballots each year from 2010 to 2013. Her husband, Miguel Sosa, left us in 2008 but voted the following year. Nell Cluck passed away in early 2009 but voted the following November. And John Grosso, who died in 2004, made his mark at the ballot box in 2006.

It's unclear at this point what happened in these cases, the most recent of which is three years old. But the Secretary of State's Office has removed the 78 dead voters from its system amid possible explanations for the glitches.

The release notes that "in some cases, people die out of state or in another country. In those cases, election officials might not receive word that a registered voter has died."

Additionally, "under federal and state law, it’s difficult to cancel a voter unless there is an exact match on name, birth date and either full address or social security number. Unfortunately, this means not every dead voter can be canceled without extensive research. Secretary Williams will work with legislators to make it easier to cancel dead voters in the future."

Despite its grabby discoveries, however, CBS4's inquiry suggests strongly that there's no widespread effort to commit voter fraud using dead voters. Even if all 78 cadavers had jolted to life long enough to mail in a ballot, their picks would represent a practically microscopic percentage of the overall vote total.

Don't be surprised, however, if conservative lawmakers use the investigation as a pretext to argue for stricter voter-ID laws and other methods that critics argue would prevent far more lawful votes than unlawful ones.

Here's the CBS4 report.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts