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Journalism project reveals 'dead voters'

by Cindy Weiss - April 28, 2008

Journalism students led by Marcel Dufresne, an associate professor of journalism who teaches investigative reporting, found that hundreds of dead people are counted as voting in Connecticut elections.

Their investigative story, written by Dufresne, ran on the front page of The Hartford Courant on April 20, spurring a press conference the next day at the state Capitol, as election officials began investigating the situation.

Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz called on the State Elections Enforcement Commission to find out whether local registrars of voters and town clerks had failed to properly remove deceased voters from voter rolls.

According to Dufresne and the students, New Haven led the state with 370 dead voters registered, and Hartford and Bridgeport had nearly 300 each.

But the state’s big cities weren’t the only places the dead could vote: Groton had 92 dead people registered, Brooklyn had 110, and Windsor had 128.

More than 300 of the dead who were registered have been counted as voting in recent elections.

In some cases, people had never been recorded as voting in a town until after they died, the investigation showed.

Students who led the reporting were Greg Bordonaro, a senior; Melissa Bruen, a senior who is editor-in-chief of The Daily Campus; Shawn Beals, CLAS ’07, who graduated with a journalism major in December and now works for the Courant; Katie Jordan, a junior; and James White, a senior.

Also reporting were students Nicole Bozzuto, Beth Wesalo, Ryan Murphy, Brock Wehry, Ryan O’Connor, and Paige Billings.

Dufresne marshaled and analyzed state data on more than 2 million eligible voters, starting last summer, comparing it with lists of dead people in public records in the state Department of Public Health and the Social Security Administration.

Students fanned out to cities and towns around the state last fall to check the records and interview registrars.

“We never assumed that the data was correct,” says Dufresne.

He attributes the dead voter registrations to benign errors, including clerical errors, rather than corruption. Town registrars of voters do not get official notification of deaths, and the state voter data are not always correct, he notes.

The story is available until May 20 on the Courant website.

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