The Journal's analysis of New York's 3-month-old database is the first to determine the potential for errors and fraud in voting. It matched names, dates of birth and ZIP codes in the state's database of 11.7 million voter registration records against the same information in the Social Security Administration's "Death Master File." That database has 77 million records of deaths dating back to 1937.
The state database was current as of Oct. 4, the master death index through June.
The same process has been used to identify deceased registrants in other states,
Among the Journal's findings:
- There were dead people on the voter rolls in all of New York's 62 counties and people in as many as 45 counties who had votes recorded after they had died.
- One Bronx address was listed as the home for as many as 191 registered voters who had died. The address is 5901 Palisade Ave., in Riverdale, site of the Hebrew Home for the Aged.
- Democrats who cast votes after they died outnumbered Republicans by more than 4 to 1. The reason: Most of them came from Democrat-dominated New York City, where the higher population produced more matches.
Tales of votes being cast from the grave are part of election lore. Last year, at least two dead voters were counted in a Tennessee state Senate race that was decided by fewer than 20 votes. As a result of that and other irregularities, seven poll workers were fired, an entire precinct was dissolved and the election results were voided by the state Senate, forcing the removal of the presumed winner. Three elections workers were indicted for faking the votes.
In 1997, a judge declared a Miami mayoral election invalid because of widespread fraud, including dead voters.
And in one of the more notorious examples, inspectors estimated that as many as 1 in 10 ballots cast in Chicago during the 1982 Illinois gubernatorial election were fraudulent for various reasons, including votes by the dead.
In one reported case, a dead man's signature was clearly spelled out on voting records even though while alive he could only mark an "X" because he had no fingers.
In most cases, instances of dead voters can be attributed to database mismatches and clerical errors. For instance, the Social Security Administration admits there are people in its master death index who are not dead.
State and federal laws require dead voters to be purged from the rolls, but it requires a tricky balance of commitment and restraint. Failing to do so enhances the opportunity for fraud, the case of one person pretending to be another.
"The only reason it's a potential problem is that elections are very contentious," said David Gamache, Dutchess County's Republican elections commissioner. "And there is a reason why the election law takes up almost 500 pages. If there is a way to cheat people, people are going to look at it and see if it is viable and whether or not they should do it."
Removing dead voters also can save boards of elections the cost of sending unnecessary mail-checks and absentee ballots. But overzealous matching can result in legitimate voters being removed.