KANSAS CITY, Missouri - In Johnson County in Kansas and Jackson County in Missouri, NBC Action News has identified 10 cases of dead people being recorded as voting in elections.
The investigation has also identified thousands of additional names of registered voters across Missouri and Kansas that Missouri Watchdog, a group funded by the Franklin Center for Public Integrity , suspects of being dead and buried.
Out of the thousands of names represented by computer databases of the dead, we focused on 26-year-old Emily McDaniels of Lee's Summit. She died two years ago and is remembered by the pet name her dad called her.
Emily McDaniels' Story
“I've always called her Emmy,” said Kem McDaniels remembering his daughter. “I'm the only one she would let call her Emmy.”
“She loved dancing.” said Emily’s mother, Karlene Papen. “Loved to go to dancing.”
Could the young woman listed on paper as living and qualified to vote for this year's elections be the same Emily McDaniels who went by Emmy and loved dancing?
“Address, date of birth,” said Emily’s mother reviewing the election records. “That's all correct.”
The same records that still showed Emily as a qualified voter in Jackson County for this coming November 2nd election, recorded her as actually voting in the presidential election two years ago.
But that's impossible because she was cremated two months before the election.
“November 4th was when she voted,” Papen said about the official records recording her daughter’s vote.. “She had died September 13th.”
“It's tough,” said McDaniels shaking his head at the news officials recorded his deceased daughter as voting two months after her death. “She was quite ill for a long time.”
McDaniels says he'd personally notified elections officials of Emily's lupus and fibromyalgia related death in 2008.
“Deceased” is even handwritten across her name on on 2008 voter logs obtained by NBC Action News.
“It's just a clerical error on our part,” said Jackson County Election Board Director Bob Nichols. “She hasn't really cast a vote.”
NBC Action News identified the case of Emily McDaniels while reviewing about 6,000 names of registered voters in Kansas and Missouri that match names and birth dates from the Social Security Administration death list.
Group reports suspicious names to NBC Action News
Missouri Watchdog analyst and reporter Earl Glynn identified 1,966 registered voters in Kansas and more than 4,294 registered voters in Missouri as having names and birthdate that match the Social Security death list.
Although most of the names appear to be coincidental cases of living individuals matching identification traits of the dead, in a sample pool of of the suspected voters, background checks conducted by NBC Action News confirmed the registered voter was, in fact, the dead person reported by the Social Security Administration.
“Given these lists of inactive voters, I could vote all day long,” Glynn said.
Critics suggest Glynn's news service is funded by conservative groups, but NBC Action News could not confirm that. Neither Missouri Watchdog nor the Franklin Center would disclose donors to the non-profit organizations.
Although NBC Action News investigation confirmed 11 cases where dead registered voters were credited with voting in Johnson and Jackson Counties, no records indicate the dead actually selected candidates.
Officials say the cases of dead people recorded as actually voting can likely be explained by clerical error, but have acknowledged errors in allowing dead people to remain listed as qualified voters on state registries.
Potential for fraud
In Johnson County, Election Commissioner Bryan Newby acknowledges the potential of voter fraud from impersonating dead voters who linger on qualified voting list.
“To me, that’s an issue,” Bryan Newby said. “I’ve always thought that you could do that. You could look at the obituaries that day.”
He said the only way to prevent impersonation of dead registered voters would be the coincidental recognition of election personnel who actually knew the deceased.
Missouri Watchdog has not presented evidence of fraud in any of the cases of dead people remaining on state registries.
“The potential is really big,” Glynn said. “I think there's a great potential that an election could be thrown fairly easily.”
Bryan Newby said in the case where NBC Action News identified a dead person being credited with voting in his district the vote actually belonged to a living qualified voter.
“Definitely, (the dead voter) did not sign the poll book, nor did anyone impersonating her do that,” Newby said. “Good news, too, that (the actual voter) still got the correct ballot
because they both had the same ballot style.”
Newby said, in Johnson County, officials mostly commonly purge dead voters by tracking by their absence in concurrent elections and removing “inactive” voters.
He says his agency does not receive death notifications from the State of Kansas.
“We don’t get anything directly from any vital statistics group,” Newby said.
In Jackson County, Missouri, Nichols acknowledged his agency was notified two years ago that Emily McDaniels had died and that she still remained listed as a qualified registered voter for the coming election.
“It was our fault that we missed that,” Nichols said.
He says the voter peel tab next to Emily's name wasn't torn indicating no one actually cast an official ballot in her place.
“We feel very confident that a dead person did not vote,” Nichols said about his jurisdiction in Jackson County.
Nichols said a recording clerk confused the handwritten “deceased” notation across Emily McDaniels’ name as a signature indicating a vote had taken place, when, in fact, it had not.
An earlier version of this story identified one of the deceased who was recorded as voting as a resident of Wyandotte County.
The individual who is recorded on Social Security Administration records as dying on August 12th, 1997 voted in the 2008 elections according to state records.
We'll refer to the deceased as "Jane Smith" to protect her identity and we'll call the registered voter officials say actually cast the vote "Zane Smith."
Wyandotte County officials say the actual voter was not "Jane Smith" but "Zane Smith," a woman with the same birthdate and same official residence who spelled her name one letter differently than "Jane Smith."
Officials say "Zane Smith" is actually a living and qualified voter with a different Social Security number.
"While I might want to speculate why they might have similar names and the same birth date, that has no bearing on the validity of her voter registration," said Bruce Newby with the Wyandotte County Election Board. "Absent substantive proof, we do not cancel any person’s voter registration just because we might suspect they are no longer with us."
Officials say federal voting regulations restrict them from purging voters without proof of death.
"Both the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act are quite specific about the evidence necessary to cancel a voter registration," Newby said. "The information concerning one "Jane Smith" is conclusively insufficient to abridge the voting rights of "Zane Smith."
Although multiple Databases show both "Jane Smith" and "Zane Smith" deceased, a woman listed as a relative, who was identified through an extensive LexisNexis Database search conducted by NBC Action News, said "Jane" and "Zane" were twins.
She said "Jane" died in 1997 and that "Zane Smith" is alive.
LexisNexis and Westlaw Databases show both names as deceased and sharing the same Social Security number.
One celebrity voter
One case identified by NBC Action News involved former Kansas Governor William Avery who died in 2009.
Until NBC Action News contacted county and state officials in the course of this investigation, Avery still remained qualified to vote in the upcoming election.
Clay County officials removed Avery’s name from the list of qualified voters minutes after being notified about the discrepancy by NBC Action News but were stumped to provide an explanation.
“I’m not sure,” said Clay County Clerk Kayla Wang”. “I honestly didn’t know he was still on there. We’ll investigate it and find a death certificate or obituary and we’ll remove him.”
Minutes later, Wang e-mailed NBC Action News saying she had disqualified the former governor from voting in future elections.
“I have pulled the local death notice and we have cancelled Mr. Avery from the roster in Clay County,” Wang wrote.
Records indicate Avery was never credited with an actual vote after his death.
NBC Action News did background checks on all suspected dead voters recorded as casting ballots in Johnson and Jackson Counties.
NBC Action News confirms about one-third of suspected voters as matching death files
Out of that small pool, our investigation confirmed about a third of suspected names, like Emily McDaniels, as matching individuals reported as dead by credit bureaus and the Social Security Administration.
Most of the suspected dead voters on the Missouri Watchdog list were determined to be false matches with only having matching birthdates and names similar to the dead.
Officials who responded to our inquiries explained the dead being recorded as casting votes as clerical errors.
Officials purge lists prior to election
Because of our investigation, elections officials in both states are now purging dead voters.
NBC Action News provided all the names of registered voters Missouri Watchdog suspects as matching death lists to the Secretaries of State in Kansas and Missouri.
Although a spot check by NBC Action
News indicates about a third of the names on the Missouri Watchdog list were identical to background information on people confirmed as deceased, like McDaniels, a spokesman for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office downplayed the numbers.
“Our elections staff immediately found the vast majority did not match with voters in the database,” said Mo. Secretary of State Spokeswoman Laura Egerdal in a statement.
Egerdal did not respond to an NBC Action News requests to explain how her agency defined “vast majority.”
“That being said, our office takes any reports of possible issues very seriously, and we have alerted all of the local election authorities in the state about the Missouri Watchdog list of possible matches,” Egerdal said.
“It's a problem that we missed a clerical situation,” Nichols said in Jackson County.
Emily McDaniels' name removed from 2010 election list of registered voters
“People just do their job to get by” McDaniels lamented about the system that allowed his daughter to remain qualified to vote two years after her death and recorded her as voting. “I see a lot of that in what's going on.”
“Unbelievable,” said Emily’s mother. “Just unbelievable.”
Officials say, at least for Emily, it won't happen again.
“These ones that we know of, like Miss Emily, she will be off there,” Nichols said about purging deceased voters identified by NBC Action News.
We've released thousands of names identified in our investigation to election officials in Kansas and Missouri to make it less likely what happened to Emily will happen again.