Nonprofit Voter Participation Center sends election registration docs to dogs, dead people

Brenda Charlston holds a photo of her long-deceased dog, Rosie, and a voter registration form for "Rosie Charlston" that arrived in the mail for the canine last month, in Seattle, July 11, 2012. AP

(AP) OLYMPIA, Wash. - The voter registration form arrived in the mail last month with some key information already filled in: Rosie Charlston's name was complete, as was her Seattle address.

Problem is, Rosie was a black lab who died in 1998.

A group called the Voter Participation Center has touted the distribution of some 5 million registration forms in recent weeks, targeting Democratic-leaning voting blocs such as unmarried women, African-Americans, Latinos and young adults.

But residents and election administrators around the country also have reported a series of bizarre and questionable mailings addressed to animals, dead people, noncitizens and people already registered to vote.

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Brenda Charlston wasn't the only person to get documents for her pet: A Virginia man said similar documents arrived for his dead dog, Mozart, while a woman in the state got forms for her cat, Scampers.

"On a serious note, I think it's tampering with our voting system," Charlston said. "They're fishing for votes: That's how I view it."

Every presidential election cycle brings with it a variety of registration drives targeting people who typically are underrepresented at the polls, and Republicans have long seized on sloppy or questionable registrations as a sign of potential fraud on the part of Democrats.

It's an issue that is particularly sensitive this year GOP political leaders have used fears of fraud to successfully push laws across the country that could make voting more difficult by requiring voters to show identification. Democrats have fought the laws, arguing that they can disenfranchise citizens, minorities in particular.

The group at the root of the questionable mailings — the Voter Participation Center — acknowledges that the databases it uses to contact possible voters are imperfect because they are developed from commercially collected information. The group also says it expects people who receive misdirected mail to simply throw it away.

Several election officials said they believed the voter registration systems were secure enough to catch people who might improperly submit the misdirected documents.

But administrators in New Mexico, a potential swing state in the 2012 presidential race, warned that ineligible voters who complete the documents could make it onto the rolls.

New Mexico is one of two states in which noncitizens can qualify for a driver's license by simply proving residency — not necessarily legal residency — and state elections officials have no way of verifying the legal status of those who file registration documents.

Ken Ortiz, the chief of staff at the New Mexico secretary of state's office, said some noncitizens have contacted the state asking why they received the forms when they'd previously been told that they could not vote.

"We fear that some of these individuals who receive this mailing may feel that they are being encouraged to vote by our office or county government," Ortiz said.

The mailings appear official, arriving in privacy envelopes with the headline "VOTER REGISTRATION DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED." Some information is already completed on the voter registration papers, and recipients also get an envelope to send completed forms to local elections officials.

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