Pew was alarmed to find in a 2011 study that about one in eight voter records are outdated. In cooperation with IBM and elections officials from across the country, the organization created ERIC to help solve the problem. ERIC software compares motor-vehicle records, voter records, Social Security information, death records, and change-of-address records. Pew has since taken a backseat, allowing the states to handle the administration of the program themselves. Using the ERIC software created by IBM, states can now create lists of individuals the program flags as improperly registered to vote either because they have moved or have died. The states then contact those individuals to confirm their status before removing them from the rolls.
In just the first seven states that joined ERIC's pilot program in 2012 — Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, and Washington — the software found 60,000 people who had died but were still registered to vote. Additionally, ERIC discovered an astounding 1.5 million voters had moved from one part of a state to another with the state's elections department being none the wiser.
"You've got a situation where basically motor vehicles in these states had an up-to-date address ... but that information never made it to the elections department," said David Becker, the director of Pew's Elections Initiatives.
ERIC also found 250,000 people who had moved from one of the participating seven states to another. And these figures don't account for individuals who moved to states not tracked by ERIC, like California, New York or Texas. "You can just imagine what these numbers would look like if you included some large states," Becker said.
It is unlikely — but not impossible — that prior to 2012, voters who moved from Virginia to Maryland, for example, took advantage of their dual registration and crossed state lines to vote twice in person. But in places with all-mail or majority-mail balloting, like Washington and Colorado, it's very likely that some voters received multiple ballots in the mail, upping the chances of fraudulent voting.
David Ammons, a spokesman for the Washington secretary of state, pointed out that when individuals send in their ballots they must sign a declaration confirming their identity and asserting their voter status in that jurisdiction. Voting multiple times, language on the ballot warns, is a felony that includes a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
But that won't deter everyone, Ammons admitted. "It definitely is something that we are constantly watching for," Ammons said.
Still, despite the lack of safeguards to prevent multiple voter registrations across the country, the actual incidence of voter fraud is extremely low. A five-year investigation by the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration found just 120 cases of fraud it deemed worth taking to court, and many of them appeared to be accidental rather than malicious cases of improper voting. Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt, who studies voter fraud, wrote in The Washington Post earlier this month that he's found just 31 credible cases of fraud committed in the United States since 2000; that's out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.