Which counties have more registration errors?

A little while ago, I wrote that Utah’s voter file has many people with invalid birthdates. Thousands of registered voters were apparently born between 1800 and 1810, for example. I was asked which counties have the most unusual birthdates on their voter rolls. Here’s the answer.

Obviously erroneous birthdates

First, let’s look at voters who are registered with an obviously false birthdate–that is, anything from the 1800s or earlier.

Box Elder County and Salt Lake County appear to have the biggest problems with invalid birthdates. Box Elder County is worst, with 2.4% of registered voters (i.e. 768 voters) having a birthdate listed in the 1800s or earlier. Salt Lake County is in second place with 0.5% (2,811 voters). Wayne County follows with 0.4% (only 7 voters). Other counties have 0.16% or fewer of their voters with such obviously bad birthdates.

Update: It turns out that these 1800s-era birthdates might not be errors. Salt Lake County, for example, intentionally lists a birthdate of 09/09/1809 for any voter who registered in the days before the state required collection of birthdates. The county clerk enters that date as an error code to indicate that the voter in question was not required to provide a birthdate when he or she first registered.

Outdated voter files

Now, let’s look at counties that have the most (presumably) dead people registered to vote. This time, I’m looking at registered voters with a birthdate between 1900 and 1910. There’s a good chance these birthdates are actually correct, unlike the 1800s birthdates, but these birthdates probably represent people who have long since died and who ought to be purged from the voter file.

Emery County has the most, with 5.2% (447 voters) born between 1900 and 1910, followed by Rich (5.0%), Piute (4.3%), Morgan (3.1%), Beaver (2.8%), Garfield (2.6%), Grand (2.6%), Millard (1.2%), and Tooele (1.2%). Apparently, the state could do more to assist rural counties with keeping their voter rolls current.

Two types of error

There’s really not any correlation between these two types of error. Some counties (Box Elder and Salt Lake) have lots of obviously incorrect birthdates. Others (Emery, Rich, Piute, etc) have lots of presumably dead people.

Update: I’ve only heard from Salt Lake County, but I’m guessing that each county has devised their own system for dealing with the same problem, which would explain why some counties have lots of birthdates in the 1800s while others have lots of birthdates in the very early 1900s.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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2 Responses to Which counties have more registration errors?

  1. The birthdates from the 1800’s are not data errors. The state did not require voters to provide a date of birth when they registered until the 1950s or 1960’s. When voter records became automated, the computers required a date, any date. In Salt Lake County, 090909 was used as a default date for all voters for whom we did not have a birthdate until Y2K when, for some reason, the date needed to be changed again to a date in the 1800’s (I don’t know why). When we receive an updated registration, the birthdate is updated but we have not actively sought out these voters for birthdates if they have had no other changes. The number of voters in this group gets smaller everyday as registrations are updated or the voters pass on.

    These dates are not errors but are rather a means of preserving the right to vote for our senior voters.

    Scott Konopasek
    SL County Director of Elections

    • Adam Brown says:

      Thanks for the explanation. It seems to cover many of these odd cases.

      Still, a voter who first registered in the 60s is at least 60 years old now. (18 years old in 1969 + 42 years ago.) And whenever I’ve moved, I’ve had to re-register to vote at my new address. Are we to believe that there are so many elderly voters who have not moved (or otherwise needed to re-register) in over 50 years? Or does Salt Lake not require re-registration?

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