Every now and then the phone rings or dings with a question. Sometimes it flashes across a group I’m in. Well, yesterday, someone wanted to know how many single addresses had six or more people registered to vote up in Monroe. As a scratch programmer and somewhat capable database manager, I was able to get the information desired that afternoon. However, I knew an expert could help get it sharper.
In the aftermath of the 2020 elections, I became acquainted with Paul Pitre, a SQL engineer. With his guidance, I was able to consolidate two separate database queries into one. The next thing you know, we have that same question answered for all sixty-four parishes.
I looked at the top line of the results
The data was sorted by the number of registered voters per address – with the largest being displayed first. Most of the parishes I pulled had apartment complexes, assisted living, or college dormitories on the first line. However, New Orleans was different. It was a vacant homeless shelter located at 843 Camp St. There were 588 voters registered at that address! Any reasonable person observing the building for themselves wouldn’t believe that it could possibly hold that many people.
The building’s signage says “Ozanam Inn.” Another interesting feature was a little note in the window that said, “Mail can be picked up at 2239 Poydras St. Starting Thurs. 11/4/2020.” If you hadn’t caught on, November 4, 2020, is the day after the 2020 presidential election. How’s that for an amazing coincidence?
The new address is an upgraded and expanded Ozanam Inn facility. The person at the front desk reported that there are exactly 141 people living there. Still, 588 is a far cry from 141. Where are the other 392 people?
We reported the issue to the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters
After discovering this anomaly in the voting database, I rapidly penned an email to the Registrar of Voters and sent it on its way. That’s what any good citizen should do. Some will be quick to evoke the name of the Secretary of State’s office. However, it’s nearly impossible for any state agency to directly oversee the millions of voters in Louisiana from one office. This is why each parish has a Registrar of Voters. In fact, the responsibility of maintaining the voter rolls falls directly on each parish’s Registrar of Voters. It’s their job to ensure the rolls are correct and up to date. That these 588 people have been registered in an empty building for nearly two years is problematic but not necessarily unexpected.
Registrars across the state have very limited staff. To check on voters, they send a postcard in the US Mail. If it comes back, the voter is marked as “inactive.” However, inactive voters are still allowed to vote like nothing is wrong. If they do vote, the “inactive” flag is removed in the database. Of the 588 voters at this address, though, only eight (8) are marked as “inactive.” Of those, only one has ever voted at all. A hundred and fourteen (114) have voted at least once. However, only sixteen (16) have voted in the 2020 presidential election, or since. That’s just three-percent (3%).
There’s also quite a bit of dirty data on a number of these. For example, of the 114 who have voted, there are thirty-five (35) who registered to vote after they voted. How does that happen? The worst one was probably the person who hasn’t voted since 1986 but registered to vote 24 years later in 2010. Another last voted in 1988, but registered to vote 24 years later in 2014.
What’s the answer?
The old cliche, garbage-in, garbage-out, was probably first spoken by a database engineer. However, dirty data is really nothing new. The ultimate question becomes, who’s responsibility is it to ensure the integrity of local elections? The simple fact is, it’s yours and mine. I get that we aren’t being paid to track all of this down, but neither is anyone else.
The Secretary of State’s office, and every registrar’s office in the entire state, has extremely limited resources. They do what they can with what they have. So, if you want clean voter rolls in your parish, it’s up to you. You can start by canvassing your own neighborhood and report what you find to your local Registrar’s office. Or perhaps all those local candidates for public office who are knocking on doors asking for your vote could pitch in with ensuring the integrity of our voter rolls.
Call your legislator
If door knocking isn’t your thing, a much easier option would be to call your legislator and ask them to increase the budget of those tasked with overseeing our elections. Also be sure to ask them to pass laws on removing inactive voters from the rolls. After all, if someone hasn’t voted since 30 March 1985, why do we expend taxpayer resources expecting them to show up for an election in 2022? Although the elections officials could probably remove these inactive voters themselves, the absolute best way to clean the rolls is with legislation.
Legislation accomplishes a few things. First, when those lawsuits are filed (and you know they will be), the heat isn’t focused on a single elections official out there all by themselves. Scenarios like that usually don’t end well. Instead, the lawsuits would have to name the entire state. That’s a much steeper hill to climb because groups will stand stronger than an individual.
Edit: Since first publishing I found out that State Representative Les Farnum passed two bills to do exactly this and with significant majorities. HB35 in the 2022 regular session and HB138 in the 2021 regular session were both vetoed by the Governor. However, they had passed with votes significant enough to probably override the veto. In fact, there was even a veto override session called both years. However, even after getting the entire legislature together to override vetoes, Speaker Clay Schexnayder (1/10) refused to call a vote on either of these bills. How do you like that?
"Keep doing what you're doing."
That's the number one thing people tell us: every issue, every time. The truth is, in spite of our extremely limited resources, we have become the most accomplished and successful government transparency and accountability organization in the entire state. Find out more about who we are and the great things we've been able to accomplish for small businesses and regular citizens like you, right here in Louisiana.