CROWN POINT | A Munster Republican activist is pushing Lake County election officials to purge their voter registration rolls of people who appear to have died in recent years.
"I don't want to appear to be on a witch hunt, but we have all heard the rumors," Michael Kotso said Monday. "We all live in Lake County. Nobody has ever done this, so if there is something to it, let's find out."
Kotso, a son of former county Republican chairman Joseph Kotso, provided the election board with more than 170 names that appear in a database of registered Indiana voters and either in the Social Security Death Index or online obituaries. He said many of them are listed as residing in nursing homes.
Kotso said one of the women still listed as an active voter was his mother, Alice E. Kotso, who died July 24, 2010, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago.
Sally LaSota, county elections director, said Kotso's mother was still on the voter rolls last week because she died out of state. Her name was removed this week when Michael Kotso presented LaSota's office with a copy of her death certificate.
Nevertheless, LaSota said the Civil Rights Act and state law, which protect voters from arbitrary disqualification, forbids the county from purging names without death certificates or proof the people have failed to vote in two consecutive federal elections.
"We cannot arbitrarily purge someone just because some guy tells us so-and-so is dead. If they have a death certificate, then we can do business, but an obituary? No," LaSota said.
The Office of Inspector General for the Social Security Administration reported last year it found more than 20,000 living individuals erroneously listed as deceased because family members or funeral homes provided erroneous Social Security numbers for actually deceased persons.
Nick Gasparovic, assistant county elections director, said Monday his staff spot-checked 30 names on Kotso's list and found his office already had removed 27 shortly after the people died. He said the others apparently died out of state.
Nevertheless, Kotso, who said he wants more than assurances, has requested to see everyone county officials have purged since the May 6 primary election.
He said his efforts have been inspired by True The Vote, a Houston-based vote-monitoring organization. Its mission to stop vote fraud has been criticized by some Democrats as an effort to intimidate minority voters.
Four years ago when Indiana was a presidential battleground state, county Republican officials accused Democratic Party activists of generating forged voter registration forms in names of dead or fictitious people.
Kim Krull, the county Republican chairwoman, said Tuesday that Kotso's efforts are independent of her party's organization. She said she has seen no proof of the kind of fraud Kotso is suggesting.