As voters across the country prepare to cast their ballots Tuesday, many are still haunted by memories of hanging chad and disputed election results. But for tens of thousands of Indiana residents, their concern is that their voices will be heard and heard and heard.
Analysis by reporters at the Indianapolis Star has revealed more than 11,000 residents are registered to vote in multiple counties and at least 50 of them have been dead for at least six years.
"I think we erred on the side of caution," said Mark Nichols, one of the reporters who worked on the story. "If anything, this is probably a conservative number."
Nichols doesn't know how right he is.
"We probably should be eliminating about 150,000 people who are no longer living and residing at their registration address," said Doris Ann Sadler, Marion County clerk.
Among those no longer residing at their registered address is former Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon -- he died in office in September 2003.
When asked how such a prominent public figure could be overlooked, Sadler said, "The former deceased governor is still on the list because of Motor Voter. We have not been able to purge him from the list like many others."
'An Invitation for Fraud'
Sadler said the problem is a complex and difficult purging process that, in an election year, has been further complicated by politics.
"I think there's been a political issue in it," she said. "It always sounds bad that you're purging voters off the list and given what's happened in the rest of country, especially Florida with the convicted felon list, people are very nervous about doing that."
Although Indiana is predominantly Republican and expected to go for President Bush, Nichols is concerned about the potential for deception.
"We had one state race last time that was basically won by less than 40 votes," he said. "If there was some conspiracy to do something fraudulent, you could really turn an election in some cases."
Sadler concedes that the unscrupulous could take advantage. "Obviously it's an invitation for fraud," she said.
As Nichols and fellow reporter John Strauss investigated the story, they speculated that the county -- and much of the country -- has simply accepted that this is an unfixable problem.
"I think they gave the impression that, 'We're trying to do the best we can to clean things up, but we're aware there's going be this kind of stuff,' " said Nichols.
Catching Fraud Isn't Easy
Sadler agreed that the problem isn't about to go away any time soon. "It's a problem that really can't be solved except to say that if someone is caught, they are committing a class D felony."
And detecting voter fraud isn't easy. "If it's going to occur," Sadler said, "really the only way to catch it is poll workers identifying that this person isn't Mabel Jones, it's a 30-year-old kid."
She said a nonpartisan committee would have to look at the voter records during an election off-year, "when the political rhetoric has toned down."
But with Election Day almost here, Sadler admits there's no time to rectify the problem this year.
"It's not going to happen by Tuesday, it's probably a project for next year," she said.