ORLANDO, Fla. (The Orlando Sentinel) — Connie Smith is not dead, and she has a signed-and-sealed state certificate to prove it.
But that’s not always enough. Florida state and Orange County elections officials keep bumping her off voter rolls, because they think she is dead.
The latest “To Whom It May Concern” certified letter arrived last Friday from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office. “This letter is to inform you that the person named above has been removed from the Orange County vote rolls after we received notification of their death.”
“I opened it up, I cried,” Smith said.
They were tears of frustration.
Florida has been in the news a lot lately — for seeking to purge voter rolls of non-citizens, for limiting early voting and third-party registration — with voting rights groups screaming “intimidation.” But Smith’s case is a reminder of how upsetting run-of-the-mill screw-ups also can be.
Constance S. Smith, 61, of College Park, had been left for dead before; she got a similar letter in 2008.
She said it took her six months to clear that up, even as other government agencies picked up on word of her demise. The Florida Division of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles invalidated her driver license. Then the Social Security Administration asked her family about reports of her death.
Ultimately, she had to get the Florida Department of Health to send her a “non-death” certificate she could show other agencies. It states there is no record of her death.
Four years later, Smith wonders if she needs fresher proof.
“That’s why I cried,” she said.
State officials told her that the 2008 mix-up was traced to the death of a Constance Simmons Smith in Miami, who had the same date of birth as Constance Slate Smith of College Park.
Linda Tanko, deputy supervisor of elections for Orange County, said the error this year may have been initiated by the Social Security Administration, which shares its data with the Florida Division of Elections, which put Smith on the so-called “death list” it sends to counties with instructions to purge the names. The Division of Elections did not respond to inquiries about Smith’s case.
“We certainly apologize. I’ve already taken the steps to get her straight on the books,” Tanko said. “But I’m only as good as the next death list that comes down” from Tallahassee.
Those lists have been criticized as inaccurate before. Even Gov. Rick Scott once was declared dead by a local elections office, in 2006 when he went to vote in Naples. Turned out it was Richard E. Scott - not Richard Lynn Scott - who had died; both men had the same birth date.
Normally, local officials do not independently confirm that people on the “death list” are in fact dead, Tanko said. But it would not have been hard for the elections office to find Smith.
A few weeks ago, the office asked Smith, via mail, to update her signature. She complied. Then she requested an absentee ballot. The office complied. Her absentee ballot arrived Friday, the same day as the notice of her death.
Smith could think of only one potential benefit to the error. “It would be nice to think I maybe won’t have to pay taxes. I’m sure they won’t declare me dead, the IRS.”