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Scandal of Double Voters By: Russ Buettner
The New York Daily News | Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Some 46,000 New Yorkers are registered to vote in both the city and Florida, a shocking finding that exposes both states to potential abuses that could alter the outcome of elections, a Daily News investigation shows.

Registering in two places is illegal in both states, but the massive snowbird scandal goes undetected because election officials don't check rolls across state lines.

The finding is even more stunning given the pivotal role Florida played in the 2000 presidential election, when a margin there of 537 votes tipped a victory to George W. Bush.

Computer records analyzed by The News don't allow for an exact count of how many people vote in both places, because millions of names are regularly purged between elections.

But The News found that between 400 and 1,000 registered voters have voted twice in at least one election, a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

One was Norman Siegel, 84, who is registered as a Republican in both Pinellas Park, Fla., and Briarwood, Queens. Siegel has voted twice in seven elections, including the last four presidential races, records show.

Officials in both states acknowledge that voting in multiple states is something of a perfect crime, one officials don't have the means to catch.

"I can't imagine how the supervisors would have access to that information," said Jenny Nash, spokeswoman for the Florida secretary of state. "As far as I know, cross-state registry has not been discussed."

The News' investigation also found:

  • Of the 46,000 registered in both states, 68% are Democrats, 12% are Republicans and 16% didn't claim a party.

  • Nearly 1,700 of those registered in both states requested that absentee ballots be mailed to their home in the other state, where they are also registered. But that doesn't raise red flags with officials in either place.

    Efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system.

    New registrants are required to supply a prior address, which kicks in a notification process to election officials in the other jurisdiction. Officials also cross-check change-of-address records from the U.S. Postal Service.

    Both procedures largely count on the honesty of the person registering. And neither would catch people who have homes in both places - including the thousands of snowbirds, the term for Northerners who winter in southern climes.

    "There's no extensive investigation normally on a voter registration form," said Steven Richman, general counsel for the city Board of Elections. "We accept it at its face value."

    Eliminating the potential to vote in multiple states would require creating a national voter registration system with federally assigned voter ID numbers, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University in Washington and a voting rights expert.

    "I don't think the country is ready for that," Lichtman said. "It may well be that a few hundred people spilling over and voting twice may be an inevitable friction within the system."

    Florida election officials were widely criticized after the 2000 election for instituting policies that resulted in thousands of African-Americans, who tend to vote Democratic, being turned away at the polls.

    Republican officials are battling similar charges in this year's election.

    Glenda Hood, the Florida secretary of state appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002, created a list of felons to be purged from the voter rolls. But the methodology used to create the list guaranteed few Hispanics, who typically vote Republican in Florida, would be purged, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

    In another problem, The ­Miami Herald reported that more than 2,000 convicted felons on the list had regained their voting rights after receiving clemency. Hood has opened an internal investigation.

    An advocacy group, People for the American Way, has asked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to open a federal probe.

    But for all the fire Florida takes, there's no hint that New York's election officials are performing any better.

    At the city and state level, the election boards are deeply politicized patronage mills that rely on aging technology.

    The Help America Vote Act of 2002, passed in response to the 2000 election debacle, requires all states to create statewide voter registration databases by Jan. 1, 2006.

    Florida already has created the statewide registry, though it doesn't yet fully comply with the new law.

    Like most things in Albany, a bill needed to implement the federal law is stalled in the Legislature, so even the federal money already received can't be spent.

    There are no plans to match the registries across states.

    The News contacted more than a dozen people registered in both places, some of whom have voted twice in the same election. Most described themselves as native New Yorkers who briefly flirted with Florida.

    Barbara Donovan, 59, was a transplanted New Yorker living in Florida when she visited her daughter in the city on Sept. 11, 2001. Overcome by solidarity with her hometown, she decided to move back. She registered to vote from her daughter's apartment. But her mother became ill and she returned to Florida.

    Her registrations in both ­places remain active, but Donovan has never voted twice. "I guess if you were some kind of zealot, you could vote in both places," Donovan said. "And last time the election was so close, it really makes you wonder."

    Parties can count on 'em–twice

    Norman Seigel puts a new twist on the political adage "vote early, and often."

    In Siegel's case, you could add "over and over again."

    Siegel (no relation to the civil rights lawyer of the same name) has voted twice in seven elections since 1988, including four presidential races, ­records show.

    Registered as a Republican at his home in Briarwood, Queens, and in Pinellas Park, Fla., Siegel has usually filed an absentee ballot in one or both places.

    Reached at his Florida home, Siegel interrupted a News reporter who was telling him that thousands of people are registered to vote in both states.

    "That's illegal," Siegel interjected. "You have to pick one place as your residence and vote there."

    Told that the records show he maintains registrations in both places, Siegel said he had not voted in Florida, then said he had not voted in New York.

    When he was told that records show he has voted in both places, Siegel cut off the conversation. "I have to go," he said.

    Irving and Magdolna Hertz of Borough Park, Brooklyn, also made a habit of being counted - twice. Magdolna, 85, voted in both New York and Florida during the November general elections in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Irving, 91, did the same in 1996 and 1998. Each time, they both mailed absentee ballots to ­Miami and voted at the polls in Brooklyn.

    Reached on the phone in Brooklyn, Irving Hertz interupted a reporter before a question could be asked.

    "I'm not here today," Hertz said and hung up. He did not return later calls.

    Several New Yorkers who have voted twice in elections said it happened by accident.

    Joseph Moschella, 59, a retired Transit Authority supervisor, said his dual vote in the 2000 presidential election was a mistake caused by his annual snowbird migration.

    The registered Republican in Melbourne Beach, Fla., and on Staten Island said he thought his absentee ballot to Florida hit the mail too late, so he voted in New York as well.

    "What happened was, I mailed it, but wanted to make sure I got my vote," Moschella said. "I'm pretty sure if you don't mail it by a certain date it's void."

    Edwin Peterson, 66, a registered Democrat in Palm Coast, Fla., and St. Albans, Queens, attributed his dual vote in the 2000 election to his distrust of the party running the Sunshine State.

    "That was a situation where Florida is so messed up with the Republicans, you don't know if your vote is even going to be counted," Peterson said. "It's been like that forever."

  • Russ Buettner is a New York Daily News staff writer.

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