RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Health care will be part of the debate this season. So will the mechanics of the election itself.

A new report finds almost two million dead people are currently registered to vote. Twenty-four million registrations are either invalid or inaccurate. There's little evidence this has led to widespread fraud, but it has raised concerns that the system is vulnerable.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports on an effort to clean things up.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Here's the problem: Like many Americans, Ben Skupien of northern Virginia has moved repeatedly. Over the years, he says, he's registered to vote in about a half-dozen states.

BEN SKUPIEN: The assumption, I would think, is that they would do the courtesy of letting the others states know that if you're registered with a new state, then other one would no longer apply.

FESSLER: Nina Horowitz thought pretty much the same thing when she moved to Washington, D.C. from Illinois.

NINA HOROWITZ: Maybe I assumed that if I registered someplace else, it would sort of nullify the other registration. But that's probably too much to expect. I doubt the states actually talk to each other about it.

FESSLER: And about that, Horowitz is correct. States share some information, but not a lot. A new study by the Pew Center on the States finds that almost three million people are registered in more than one state. Election officials say it's hard to keep up with one in eight Americans moving each year. They also have to keep up with voter deaths. Linda Lamone runs elections for the state of Maryland.

LINDA LAMONE: If a John Smith lives in Maryland and goes to another state - say, on vacation - and dies, the law of the state where John Smith dies dictates whether or not the Maryland vital statistics people can share that information with me.

FESSLER: And even when they do - or if a person dies in-state - it's also not always clear that the individual on the death certificate is the same one registered to vote. Election officials have to do a lot more digging to avoid accidentally taking someone off the rolls who's very much alive.

SAM REED: You can never assume just because something comes up in the computer it's correct.

FESSLER: Sam Reed is the long-time Secretary of State for Washington State. He says it's amazing how many times they found names that appear to be the same person, but turn out not to be.

REED: And we've even had cases, in very small counties, people same name and same birth dates.

FESSLER: Which, he says, has led to inaccurate reports that dead people are voting. Reed admits there are cases in his state where widows or widowers have cast ballots for former spouses, but he says such fraud is very rare. Still, election officials say it's important that the public have confidence in the system. So Washington and seven other states are joining a pilot program to share more voter information and other databases to try to make their lists more accurate.

DAVID BECKER: What this system will do is it'll take in data from the states who choose to participate, specifically motor vehicles data and voter registration data.

FESSLER: David Becker, director of election initiatives at Pew, which has organized the project.

BECKER: And it will be matched, along with some data that many states use already, like national change of address data from the Postal Service.

FESSLER: And other information to help them weed out duplicates and mistakes. Becker says the program will also allow help states to identify some of the 50 million-plus Americans who are eligible to vote but aren't registered, so election officials can then contact them and encourage them to sign up. It all sounds great, says Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research group in Washington, D.C., but she and other privacy advocates say they'll be watching closely to make sure that all this data-sharing actually leads to more accurate voter rolls.

LILLIE CONEY: We do know that there are a lot of people who want to believe that that, in fact, will be the case, but we want to see the numbers.

FESSLER: She recalls another data-matching program in Florida, where legitimate voters were confused with convicted felons and mistakenly removed from the rolls. Becker of Pew says no one's name will be deleted automatically, that officials are required by law to try to contact the voter first. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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