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False alarm stirs black voters

A mix-up over the weekend prompted scores of worried black Lexington voters to call or visit the Fayette County clerk's office on Monday and ask why they were purged from the voter rolls — when in fact, they are still registered.

The source of the confusion is a list of names that a Democratic Party activist passed around Saturday at Funky Farm, a voter-registration event in Lexington's Douglass Park.

Urika Berry said the list includes the names of about 4,500 recently purged voters in the 77th Kentucky House district, which has a large black population. Berry said she got the list Friday after she asked the Kentucky Democratic Party for a list of recently purged voters from its Voter Builder database.

However, the Democratic Party on Monday denied that it produced a list of purged voters. Spokesman Thom Karmik said he's not even certain the Voter Builder database can generate a list of purged voters.

The Herald-Leader obtained much of Berry's list Monday, and after Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins' staff checked a page of names chosen at random, it appeared that it's a list of registered voters, not purged voters. None of the names checked had been purged. Nearly all are Democrats; a few are independents.

"I'm at a loss to know what happened here," said Blevins, whose office already was dealing with a long line of people registering to vote for the Nov. 4 election. Monday was the registration deadline.

"Our phones are ringing off the hook, and we've got a lot of people coming in, and this is a big part of it," Blevins said. "Whoever started this rumor, they are inconveniencing a whole lot of people who are already registered. So far as I know, virtually every person who has inquired has, in fact, been registered."

The secretary of state's office in Frankfort also has been getting similarly puzzling calls from Lexington, said spokesman Les Fugate.

The rumor spread quickly over the weekend.

Berry, who said she is a mediator and a progressive activist, divided her list of names among other volunteers Saturday at Douglass Park. She urged them to call everyone listed and warn them that they could not vote Nov. 4 unless they re-registered by Monday.

Maurice Bogarty, who worked in Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts for the 2000 and 2004 elections, said he took a chunk of Berry's list covering the Versailles Road area. "I called darn near 200 people to tell them," Bogarty said.

One of the people Bogarty warned Saturday evening was Thelma White, 68, secretary for the Lexington Urban League. White said she was baffled as to why she was dropped from the voter rolls — she never was, according to the county clerk — but she hurriedly filled out a registration card and arranged for a friend to drop it off at Blevins' office on Monday. Then on Sunday, she warned her friends at church, spreading the word still further.

Told on Monday that her list of purged voters appeared to be a list of registered voters, Berry said she was puzzled by the discrepancy. She said she could not remember the names of who at Democratic Party headquarters in Frankfort ran the computer query for her.

"If it's incorrect, it was either human error or an error in the database," she said. "Well, at least people are checking their registration status. That's important. I'd rather err on the side of being cautious."

Blevins said that, under state law, a county clerk can purge voters from the rolls upon their deaths or felony convictions, or if they register to vote in another county or state. Federal law allows voters to be purged for inactivity if they do not vote in two consecutive federal election cycles, although the clerk's office first sends letters to the voters inquiring about their status, he added.

The secretary of state's office, which monitors election integrity with the state Board of Elections, has made no unusual effort to purge Kentucky voter rolls in the last couple of years, Fugate said. Since 2004, 24,081 Fayette County voters have been purged for the usual reasons, he said, although it's possible that some of those are repeats, people purged more than once.

John McCain and Barack Obama will debate for a second time at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Each candidate is trying to portray the other as riskier. See Page A3.

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