When New York City computerized its voter rolls over the past decade and a half, election workers had to assign some birth dates to those age-shy voters who had chosen to list their age as 21-plus -- in the years before voters had to list their birth dates. They decided Jan. 1, 1850 was a nice, round number.
As the New York Post reported yesterday, this decision has left the city with 850 164-year-old voters this year. Officials have been trying to get these voters -- geezers in the view of the law, if not reality — to update their birth date, but have been mostly ignored (these people really do not want anyone to know how old they are). The city plans to try chasing down these voters after this election cycle, we assume by looking at wherever aspiring relics celebrating their sesquicentennial on the voter rolls congregate -- Civil War re-enactments or Ken Burns talks, perhaps.
Election mix-ups are one of the inevitable symptoms of democracy. Organizing lists of millions of voters who keep moving every which way across the country is just as difficult as you'd imagine, especially with the many changes to voting laws in recent years. There is rarely anything sinister at hand; just human fallibility. But few have been as entertaining — or harmless — as New York's roving band of super senior citizens.
To wit: More than 100,000 voters in Virginia were sent letters saying their registration was outdated when it wasn't. In Kansas, a woman in one county learned she was registered to vote in a different county — a result of a woman with the same first and middle name as her — different last name — registering, and a election staffer assuming they were the same person. In Oregon, thousands of voter registration cards were sent out matching voters with incorrect addresses. A snafu in Utah left Mitt Romney registered as an independent at an address he didn't live at.
There are other flavors of election errors this fall too.
In Gaines, Mich., all the local council candidates forgot to file. The state reminded them about deadlines in the past, but didn't send out any mailings this year. (At least they didn't forget to hold elections all together, as some towns have in the past). They are all running as write-in candidates. In Berkeley, Calif., the county sent out 27,000 mail-in ballots noting that Election Day was on Nov. 5 — not Nov. 4 (the actual date). And on Washington, D.C.'s official election guide, the D.C. flag was printed upside down.
So how to address all these problems? Perhaps the United States government could convene a panel with the nation's oldest voting experts, those 850 New York City residents, on how to best improve the country's electoral system.