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Nevada election officials dispute voter purging suggestions

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York Times article Thursday named Nevada as one of six swing states in which tens of thousands of eligible voters have been removed from rolls or blocked from registering.

Election officials lined up to defend their registration procedures and said they had done nothing wrong.

The New York Times based its findings on reviews of state records and Social Security data, and said it had identified apparent problems in Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada.

The Times said voters appear to have been purged by mistake and not because of any intentional violations by election officials or coordinated efforts by any party. It says that some states are improperly using Social Security records to verify new voters who have registered, and that others might have broken rules that govern removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election.

Nevada elections officials insisted they never removed voters from rolls based on Social Security data.

"I want to assure Nevadans that any suggestion that eligible voters will be denied their right to participate in this election on Nov. 4 is false," said Secretary of State Ross Miller in a written statement.

Agencies don’t delete names or render the voters ineligible but instead flag the questionable voters, who will then have to show identification at polling places before casting ballots, said Larry Lomax, Clark County registrar of voters.

If registered voters cannot be verified through the databases of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration, the county clerks will send mail to those voters to confirm their information, Miller said.

If the clerk does not receive a response to the mail, these residents still will be allowed to vote as long as they show proper ID at polling sites, Miller said.

The Nevada State Democratic Party issued a statement assuring voters that they won’t be dropped from the rolls improperly.

The party is encouraging Democrats to participate in this pivotal election, and it is standing behind Miller who is contradicting a newspaper titan, said Paul Kincaid, state Democratic party spokesman. Miller is a Democrat.

"We just wanted to reassure voters that when they go to the polls, they will have no problems," Kincaid said. "Their votes will count."

Michigan elections director Chris Thomas said the state removed only people who have died, notified authorities of a move or who were declared unfit to vote, which is well within the parameters of the law. Thomas said only 11,000 voters were removed from Michigan rolls in August — not 33,000, the figure cited in the report.

"There is no illegal purging going on," Thomas told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The Times stood by its story. Spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the newspaper’s reporting was based on voter registration data provided by the states themselves, and in Michigan’s case compared an Aug. 5 snapshot of registered voters with a Sept. 5 snapshot.

She said the Times explained its methodology to Thomas on Thursday, "and he said he could not explain the discrepancy between our figures and Michigan’s official numbers."

Colorado said it would review its practices of "canceling" voters who had moved, died or were deemed otherwise ineligible. Secretary of State Mike Coffman said he asked lawyers to determine if the state’s protocols violated a federal ban on "systematic" purging close to an election, but said because people, not computers, were doing the reviews, he believed they were sound. He said nearly 2,500 voters may be restored if the procedure is found to have violated the law.

States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 by removing the names of voters who should no longer be listed. But for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, the Times’ review of the records found.

States appear to have violated federal law in one of two ways, according to the newspaper report. Some are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state or have been declared unfit to vote, The Times said.

And some of the states are improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters, the newspaper reported. Under the Help America Vote Act, many states have an agreement with the Social Security Administration requiring them to submit the last four digits of a new voter’s Social Security number for verification if the person does not have a valid state-issued ID, such as a license.

Last week, amid concerns about an uptick in the number of requests for verification, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue sent letters to officials in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio seeking to verify that the checks were run only on new voters who don’t have acceptable identification. States have said the increase in checks is due partly to a stream of new voters coming in to register.

In Georgia, federal officials say some 2 million checks have been completed, but only 406,000 new voters were registered. The Department of Justice has questioned the checks, and state officials say they are trying to determine how federal authorities arrived at that figure.

North Carolina elections watchdog Bob Hall, who heads the advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, defended the state’s elections board. Hall said he has found that many registration forms are incomplete or partly illegible and that many prospective voters provide Social Security numbers instead of driver’s licenses. Because of that, he said it’s not surprising that the state would need to run so many verifications.

Indiana also defended its procedures. "Using all available appropriate technology is our best way to combat voter fraud that we know exists in this state and across the country," Secretary of State Todd Rokita said in a statement Thursday.

Rokita spokesman Jim Gavin said no voters have been purged from Indiana rolls this year. He said there has been a rise in the state’s Social Security verification requests because a record number of Indianans — more than 4.4 million — are registered to vote.

If voters were wrongfully removed from rolls, they could show up on Election Day and be challenged by political party officials or election workers. Any discrepancy could disproportionately affect Democrats, who have registered voters more aggressively.

Review-Journal writer Scott Wyland contributed to this report.

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