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Brown: Voter registration a grave task for national group

Sun-Times File Photo.

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Given Chicago’s reputation for voting skullduggery, city election officials put a lot of effort into removing the names of dead people from the voter registration rolls.

That’s why they’re not terribly pleased with a Washington-based group that is sending voter registration solicitations to individuals who are already deceased.

In the past few weeks, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has heard from 18 residents who received solicitations intended for dead family members, many of them in the grave a long time.

The letters inviting the dead persons to register to vote were sent by the non-profit Voter Participation Center, whose mass mailings have caused consternation in numerous election jurisdictions over the past month.


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The organization mines commercial databases in an effort to identify individuals who are eligible to vote but not registered. A spokesman said the group targets “people of color, unmarried women and millennials,” which it calls the Rising American Electorate.

Theo Cieszynski would not appear to qualify in any of those categories, especially the Rising American part.

The South Chicago resident, who was of Polish ancestry, worked as a millwright at the Cargill grain elevator, said his daughter, Barbara Cieszynski, who resides in her parents’ former home in the 9300 block of South Saginaw.

Most important, he died in December 1963.

“Don’t you think they should know that by now?” said his 76-year-old daughter, who received the letter addressed to her father last month and forwarded it to the election board.

Loin Abdullah, also 76, seemed even more confused about receiving a letter from the Voter Participation Center addressed in the name of his grandfather, Lewis B. Gross, and urging him to register to vote.

Gross died in 1937 in Georgia, never having lived in Chicago, let alone at the address in the 7600 block of South Marquette where the solicitation was sent, his grandson said.

Abdullah also contacted the city election board with the correct information.

“I was just setting the record straight,” he said.

On Monday, Election Board Chairman Marisel Hernandez sought to set the record straight that the board had nothing to do with the voter registration mailing and urging residents to disregard it if they are not eligible to vote or if they are already properly registered.

James Allen, a spokesman for the election board, said the board suspects the registration requests went out to hundreds of individuals in Chicago who are deceased.

Allen said the son of a man who whose father died in 2000 wrote in to ask, “Is this why they say in Chicago to vote early, vote often?”

Actually, this is more an example of why they say the dead vote in Chicago, although I can’t remember any proof of that taking place for several decades.

Making sure the dead don’t vote is an ongoing challenge.

“We’re in the business of trying to scrub rolls of outdated registrations. This is working in the opposite direction, inviting dead people to register,” Allen complained.

Among the election board’s other concerns were that the letters were sent to non-citizens who are not eligible to register.

The mailing from the Voter Participation Center included a form labeled “State of Illinois Voter Registration Application” that made it appear to some recipients to be a government mailing.

The application arrived in the mail with the name and address of the would-be applicant already filled out.

A spokesman for the group, which bills itself as non-partisan, said 613,000 voter registration applications were sent in June to Illinois residents, one of 13 states targeted for attention.

With such a large mailing, it’s “inevitable” that mistakes will be made, the spokesman said, arguing that the 122,000 Illinois residents that VPC has helped register to vote in the past decade is a greater good.

No word on how many of them were zombies.

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