The recent report by Election Integrity Maryland that there may be as many as 164 individuals who voted in both Maryland and Virginia in the 2012 election hasn’t exactly caused the Maryland Board of Elections to press the panic button. There’s a reason for that: The numbers don’t prove fraud and more likely point to clerical error. That’s not to suggest the Fairfax County Electoral Board should not seek criminal investigation, as officials announced last week, into 17 possible cases of duplicate voting in that Northern Virginia county — such due diligence is entirely appropriate — but the chances that such incidents will result in fraud convictions are slim. If there’s one thing experience has taught, it’s that duplicate voter registration is almost always the result of nothing more nefarious than people moving from one state to another and registration rolls not being expunged in a timely manner. Trumped up horror stories about voting irregularities have fueled a Republican-led push to enact voter identification laws that are far more likely to discourage voting, particularly by young, elderly and minority voters who are less likely to have government-approved ID, than it is to uncover organized (or even disorganized) attempts to alter election outcomes. Voter fraud is not unknown, it’s simply uncommon.
So what is going on exactly when you have nearly 44,000 people who hold dual registrations in Maryland and Virginia? In Maryland, it means that newly-registered voters likely failed to indicate on their registration forms where they lived previously. Had they done so, authorities in Virginia would have been notified to drop those individuals from the voter rolls.
People living in the Washington, D.C. area change their state of residence all the time. It’s commonplace for an individual to move from Montgomery County, Md. to Fairfax County, Va. or the District of Columbia and back again in a few years’ time. Meanwhile, the voter rolls are only expunged if the state has been notified by the voter, the person has died (in which case there’s a shared database called the Electronic Registration Information Center that may come into play) or hasn’t voted in several elections in which case the registration may become inactive.