Pennsylvania Rabbit Hole Part X


Comparative Analysis

Analyzing the snapshots of Pennsylvania Voter Registration data has led us to many irregularities. It has also led us to many questions about the integrity of voter registration databases.

Continuing our analysis, we took a closer look at individual voters. We compared a voter’s data from one data set to the same voter’s data in a second data set. Oddly, some of the voter’s birth-dates had changed.

Our curiosity sparked, we wondered about how often that happened. Perhaps it was a correction to a previous error, or maybe it was an honest fluke.

Changing Identifying Features on Voter Registration

In Pennsylvania, any change to a voter record must be voter-initiated online, by fax, or by mail.

A change in marital status is the most common reason for a name change. Pennsylvania had 73,876 marriages and 33,749 divorces in 2016. According to a survey conducted by the New York Times, approximately 20% of women keep their maiden names after marriage. That means 80% go through the name-change process. Thus, over the course of a year, there are roughly 59,100 name changes due to marriage. This translates to 35,000 for the 7-month period we examined. Statistics for name changes after divorce are harder to find. But the information available suggests that it’s a more difficult and time-consuming process.

Birth-date changes

Date-of-birth and gender are considered identifying features and are used to distinguish voters with identical or similar names. Errors in these data fields should be relatively rare.

With that said, there is no voter-facing mechanism by which a voter can easily change his or her date-of-birth electronically.

Birth-date changes must be done through the Department of Transportation. After filling out a form, the voter must take it to PennDot Driver’s License Center in person and with his or her state-issued birth certificate.

Gender changes

To change gender identification, a special form is required along with the signature of a licensed medical or social services worker. The form must be presented in person. The most common reason for a change of gender, and the only one recognized by the state of Pennsylvania, is gender reassignment.

Out of Pennsylvania’s population of 12,702,379, transgender adults make up 0.44% of the population. This gives us a population of 55,890 transgender residents. Research shows that among the challenges this population faces, getting official documentation to match gender identity can be difficult. As of 2015, 71% of those surveyed nationally didn’t have their gender updated on any form of identification. For the purposes of this analysis, we are left with an estimate of 16,208 Pennsylvania residents whose gender had been changed on legal forms of identification.

Considering that it’s complicated to change one’s birth-date or gender on voter registration in Pennsylvania, we saw enough changes to this information in the data sets that it raised our eyebrows.

Same ID, Changes to Identifying Features

Our curiosity piqued, we wrote scripts that compared the records of voters that had the same ID. We were looking for changes in their “identifying features” (name, date of birth, and/or gender).

In the seven months before the election, 2.6% of voter records showed a change to some part of the voter’s basic identity (name, DOB, or gender). And 1.7% of the records showed such change in the nine months after the election. That’s a total of 378,675 such changes.

Over 10,000 voter records (more than 1 in 1000) showed date-of-birth changes to dates-of-birth during this time.

Before the election, over 175,000 (or 2%) of the voter records showed a gender-field change. In the nine months after the election, over 95,000 showed a change. Pennsylvania has four gender options—F, M, U and an empty field.

Notably, over 98% of the gender-field changes showed a change to or from an “undesignated” state. Nearly 85% changed from undesignated to F or M before the election. Over 12% changed from F or M to undesignated. Roughly 1.5% of these registrations showed a change from male to female or vice versa. In only a small number of cases did the name change seem to correspond to the new gender.

Were the changes voter-initiated?

We found over 375,000 voter identities altered in some way during these sixteen months. Like other data changes, these changes accelerated in the last months before the election. In the period between August 15th and the election, 146,764 registrations showed changes to the voter’s name, DOB, or gender. And, 110,669 of these voters showed changes to DOB or gender.

Importantly, there isn’t a clear or facile mechanism for voters to change their dates-of-birth or genders. Additionally, the names were changed at nearly twice the expected rate before the election. So, it’s unlikely that voters initiated a majority of these changes.

And after the elections?

Nearly 5000 of the records that showed a name, DOB, or gender change in the seven months before the election made another change in the nine months after the election. And, many of these changed voting records had a changed address. Again, some of them changed back in the months after the election.

Then we noticed another disturbing set of changes.

We compared the “last voted” dates from the February 27, 2017 data set to the “last voted” dates in the July 31, 2017 data set. We found 3,413 voters whose records changed in ways that made no sense. Of the changed records, 2,602 changed in such a way that the July data showed that the voter had voted in the November 2016 election. And 460 records showed a voter who was previously shown as voting in the November election but no longer was.

One voter was marked as having voted in the upcoming November 7, 2017 election as of July 31, 2017.

Only 262 of the 3,413 changed records showed a “last changed” date after February 27. This indicates that most of these changes were not made in a standard way.

Final Analysis

We spent months probing and analyzing this data from the Pennsylvania Voter Registration files. We thoroughly documented our research and have posted a series of ten articles. You journeyed with us as we discovered data anomalies and explored numerous instances of disproportionate, nonsensical numbers in that data.

But these are the trees. It’s time to look at the forest. It’s time that we asked ourselves one important question:

Clearly, manipulating our voter registration isn’t rocket science. On the contrary, it’s relatively simple. Why are our voter registration databases this vulnerable?

Democracy rises and falls on free and fair elections. If our voter registration data is not secure, democracy itself is not secure. If our voter registration data is being manipulated, our democracy is being manipulated. There is no gray area here.

Joins us in our outcry to unhackthevote. Call or write your local, state, and federal officials. If they won’t protect democracy of their own volition, we must demand that they do.

Read the rest of the Pennsylvania Rabbit Hole Series:

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Author: Unhackthevote