'You don't look a day over 139'
Computer quirk has some Olmsted voters 153 years old
By Bob Freund
Several hundred Olmsted County residents would blanch at their ages in voter records. They wouldn't expect to still be going to the ballot box at 153 years old.
Yet that's what the county's computerized records show.
Those official records now show their birth dates as 1/1/1850. County Election Administrator Pam Fuller is trying to tidy up the record by collecting the real birth dates of about 400 county voters.
"Nobody's going to be that old, I'm sure," she says. They are receiving mailed requests to fill out new voter registration cards.
As sometimes happens, there's a computer-age reason for the pre-Civil War date. It actually reflects lack of any birth date from the voter on registrations at least two decades in the past.
It hasn't always been required. State law demands a birth date only for registrations filed after Aug. 1,1983. The same code also grandfathers -- or, in this case, maybe great-great-great-grandfathers -- prior registration cards without birth dates as legally valid.
This didn't particularly bother clerks or election judges in the past. However, Fuller says when the state's election office switched some computer software a few years ago, the new program filled in the blank birth dates with a default setting -- 1/1/1850.
The voters affected generally are ones who are long-settled residents. They opted not to give an age earlier; they have lived at the same address since registering and they have voted in the same name at least once every four years, said Kent Kaiser, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office. Otherwise, they would have been required to complete a new registration card.
Fuller gradually is mailing requests for a true birth date to voters who are listed as past their sesquicentennials. "I sent part of them last week," she said.
The birth date does have some use. It proves that a voter is at least 18 years old and eligible to vote. It also is one way to identify voters in cases of identical names, she said.
At the same time, legislators writing the law apparently were not eager to force reluctant voters to re-register just to divulge their ages.
Under the law, city and county election officials can ask, but "failure by the voter to comply with this (birth date) request does not make the registration deficient," the statute says.
So, if you're among the voters with a computer age of 153, you'll receive a note in the mail. Fuller would appreciate your help in clearing the record with a valid birth date.
But, in the end, it's up to you.