Wait, are you really registered to vote? Mailer gives voters scare

CINCINNATI - Mount Healthy resident Bob Dickenherr was shocked when he received a letter saying he wasn't registered to vote.

Dickenherr, 79, and his wife had voted last year and regularly vote in presidential races. It made no sense that he wasn't registered. But still, a notice from the Voter Participation Center was advising him to update his registration. So he called the Hamilton County Board of Elections, which confirmed he already was registered to vote.

"It upset us both," his wife, Hildreth Dickenherr, said. She wonders how many others received a similar letter. "You don't know how many went out."

Bob Dickenherr isn't the only Ohioan who was contacted accidentally by the Voter Participation Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit trying to register more minority, unmarried women and millennial voters who tend to vote for Democrats. The group says imperfect data can lead to imperfect mailings. For example, Bob Dickenherr doesn't exactly match their targeted demographic.

But neither do deceased people, teenagers too young to vote, and dogs, who also have received notifications from the group.

Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Sherry Poland said her office received calls from several confused residents who had gotten notices saying they were not registered to vote when they actually were. In June, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted sent a letter to the Voter Participation Center, advising them to be more careful after hearing multiple complaints. It's not clear how many registered voters received the message in error.

"Encouraging people to get registered and to participate is commendable, but any sense of carelessness can undermine our goal of strengthening the efficiency and integrity of Ohio elections," Husted wrote.

Voter Participation Center officials, who have sent more than 2 million letters to Ohioans this election, said they regretted the errors, but they were working with an imperfect system. People might list their pets' names on magazine subscriptions or other lists that voter advocates receive to target unregistered people.

"Unfortunately, no state makes available a list of individuals who are unregistered to vote," said Page Gardner, founder and president of the Voter Participation Center, which touts registering 3 million voters over 12 years. "VPC spends significant resources to fine tune its lists and mail only to unregistered, eligible voters."

The letter the group has sent to targeted Ohioans does state: "If you have already registered at this address or are not eligible to vote, please disregard this notice." Registered voters who receive the notice in error can unsubscribe from the list by going to www.VoterParticipation.org/Unsubscribe.

Husted recently sent reminders to 1.6 million unregistered Ohio voters, advising them that the deadline to register is Oct. 11. To check whether you are registered in Ohio, go to voterlookup.sos.state.oh.us.


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