Board of Elections Examining Voter Rolls after Conservative Group Raises Questions

Board of Elections Examining Voter Rolls after Conservative Group Raises Questions

Judicial Watch found the county has more registered voters than residents 18 and older

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The Board of Elections discussed the county's voter rolls at a meeting Monday in Gaithersburg

Andrew Metcalf

Members of Montgomery County’s Board of Elections said Monday they are reviewing the voter rolls after a conservative group questioned why the county’s total number of registered voters is higher than the number of adults in the county.

However, board members said they haven’t uncovered any wrongdoing and that the process of removing voters from the rolls is a lengthy one that could have resulted in the discrepancy.

Judicial Watch, which receives millions in funding from conservative groups such as the Sarah Scaife Foundation, sent a letter to the state Board of Elections this month threatening a National Voter Registration Act lawsuit over the county’s voter rolls. The group found the county’s voter registration total was about 103 percent of the census-recorded population of residents over the age of 18 in the county.

The county’s voter rolls have 657,548 registered voters compared to a voting-age population of 633,295, according to The Washington Post.

On Monday, county Board of Elections President James Shalleck, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, said the board is taking the issue very seriously.

“Voter fraud is totally unacceptable and this board has zero, zero tolerance for any voter fraud,” Shalleck said.

The county has removed more than 76,000 voters from the rolls since he joined the board in 2015, Shalleck said.

Jessica White, who handles voter services for the board, said removing voters from the rolls can take years. That’s because the county relies on social security information, voters notifying the board that they’re moving out of the county or on mailed sample ballots being returned to the county as undeliverable. The county removes a voter after two sample ballots are returned without a forwarding address in two federal election cycles.

She said jurisdictions with high transient populations, where residents move frequently, can have issues with maintaining their voter rolls because it can take so long to remove a voter from the list.

She said 30,000 to 40,000 sample ballots are returned each election cycle and it can take up to six months to sift through them.

She also noted the state counts the county’s 8,332 16- and 17-year-olds who have registered to vote in jurisdictions such as Takoma Park as active voters, even though they’re not permitted to vote in county, state and federal elections.

Despite the assurances from board members, some people suggested Monday there’s a conspiracy at work in the county.

Dick Jurgena,  chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, questioned why Prince George’s and Frederick counties don’t have issues with their voter rolls while operating under the same state regulations.

He also suggested that Margaret Jurgensen, the county’s election director for 15 years, should step down.

“I think there are some people who are not doing their job,” Jurgena said.

Dan McHugh, vice president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, said that allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote is “stupid” and said the board needs to examine the law allowing them to do so.

Meanwhile, voter advocacy groups such as Common Cause Maryland and Project Vote urged the board to be cautious when examining the voter rolls to make sure people who don’t vote regularly aren’t purged from the rolls.

Damon Effingham, legal and policy director for Common Cause, said several bipartisan studies have found that voter fraud in the U.S. is virtually nonexistent despite a recent push by Republicans—including President Donald Trump—to make it into an issue.

Sarah Brennan, an attorney for Project Vote, said the federal and state laws governing voter rolls were drafted to increase the number of citizens eligible to vote, not to purge voters from the rolls. She asked the board to take a “careful approach” when maintaining the voter list.

Board member David Naimon agreed and said people will only be removed from the list if “it’s the right thing to do.”

“There’s been a lot of alternative facts presented here today,” Naimon said. “From everything I’ve seen in my six years on the board, we have and will always continue to take this very seriously.”

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