The Quick and the Dead
November 9th, 2006 by JTJ

Paul Parker, of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, is the Quick and an impressive list of folks on the state's voter registration rolls are the Dead this week.  Below is a note Parker posted to  the NICAR-L listserv.  The great thing about this is the recipe Parker provides for an analytic journalists' cookbook.  Said he:

Nothing new or innovative, but we ran a dead voters story today, and
it's getting tons of buzz. I would recommend — no, URGE — everyone on
the list do the same for your area.

Here's the link:

I know it's CAR101, but I'll outline how we did it (which is also
explained in the story):

1. Get your state's central voter registration database.
2. Get your state slice of the Social Security Administration's Death
Master File from IRE/NICAR.
3. Run a match on First Name, Last Name and Date of Birth.
4. Exclude matches where middle initials conflict. (Allow P=PETER or
P=NULL, but not P=G.)
5. Calculate a per capita rate for each city/town by dividing the number
of dead people by the total registered.
6. Interview the biggest offenders about why they're the biggest offenders.

This was so easy, and now everyone at the paper thinks I'm some sort of
journalism deity. (And the voter registration people called to ask,
“Where do I get a copy of that Social Security list.”)

As for the possibility of false positives, we pointed this out in the
story, which I think sufficed because the odds are low enough. I also
hand checked a few against our obituary archives.

Paul Parker
The Providence Journal
75 Fountain Street
Providence, RI 02902

Then David Heath, at the Seattle Times layered in his experience.  Said he:

did a dead-voter story last year after a squeeker of a governor's race.

story looked for dead people actually voting. At first, we were

surprised by
the number of matches. But very few of them withstood

scrutiny. Matching a
name and a birthdate will get you lots of false

matches. You really need to
include address, which you can do in our

state where the death-certificate
database is public.

We then went to the county election board and got the
actual page voters

signed when they voted. We even looked
at absentee ballots. What

we discovered were a lot of cases where a
vote was recorded for a person

because someone else accidentally signed the
wrong line on the page —

John R. Smith signing on John P. Smith's line, for
example. Or cases

where the person scanning the data with a bar-code reader
into the

database missed and scanned the wrong line. We also found cases

parents and children had the same name; the parent died but the son

daughter was mistakenly scrubbed from the registry.

We did find a
few cases of dead people voting. Usually it was a recent

death and someone in
the family turned in an absentee ballot and forged

the signature. But you
have to be careful that a story about dead voters

isn't really a story about
dirty data.

David Heath
The Seattle

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa