Virginia election officials purging almost 40,000 voters

October 17, 2013

Virginia is purging thousands of voters just weeks before candidates for governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and Ken Cuccinelli (R) face off at the polls (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

The Virginia Board of Elections has purged more than 38,000 names from its voter rolls just weeks before Election Day, despite serious concerns from local election administrators that many of those voters are still eligible to cast a ballot.

The purge comes a few months after the board said it would use several databases to find voters who were now ineligible to vote, either because they had been convicted of a felony or moved out of state. But after the board sent an initial list of voters who would be purged to local election administrators, those administrators found what they said were hundreds of voters who shouldn’t be removed.

On Oct. 3, the state Democratic Party filed paperwork seeking an injunction to halt the purge. But on Tuesday, the Board of Elections said it had already nixed 38,870 names from voter rolls after county registrars reviewed the initial lists.

Another 11,138 eligible voters will remain active on the rolls after county registrars reviewed the state lists. And almost 7,300 will be designated “inactive,” meaning they must sign a form declaring their eligibility to vote.

“This is a 14th Amendment issue. We have 131 local election officials here in Virginia, and the guidance they got from the state board was, quote, use your best judgement,” said Brian Coy, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party. Coy said the fact that the Board of Elections’ legal adviser, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), is on the ballot this year as a candidate for governor raised red flags.

Several county registrars said they didn’t have the time necessary to ensure eligible voters inadvertently included on the state list weren’t denied their right to vote. Loudoun County Registrar Judy Brown said in an interview that she had to race to meet her local electoral board’s deadline.

“My main concern was the lack of time to be able to devote to the list to make sure we weren’t taking people off without first trying to find out if they were still here or if they had left,” Brown said. “I believe that kind of stuff deserves my attention.”

After Brown decided to delay the purge, the state Board of Elections called her local elections board, which voted to require Brown to scrub Loudoun County’s voter rolls. They gave her one week. Brown said she sent letters to both in-state and out-of-state addresses she had for voters on the list, just a week before the state’s Oct. 15 registration deadline. She’s already heard from some who say they still live in-state.

“We’ve had a few phone calls from people who have actually been voting here for the last couple of years,” Brown said.

Chesterfield County Registrar Lawrence C. Haake III filed his own affidavit, saying he had conducted a review and found almost 10 percent of the names flagged by the state Board of Elections were of eligible voters, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Haake, a Republican, has refused to purge voters from the list.

Cuccinelli’s office said in its own court filing that the the relatively small number of eligible voters mistakenly included on the list demonstrates the state Board of Elections and county registrars are doing their jobs.

“The lists in question were reviewed and prepared carefully by [the state Board of Elections] and were sent to the registrars for review and possible cancellation. The so called ‘errors’ were simply voters that should not be cancelled and … have not been cancelled,” the Attorney General’s office said in its filing. “Over 18,000 Virginia citizens were reviewed and left on Virginia registration rolls. In short, the system worked and there is no basis to restore 38,000 out of state voters to Virginia’s voter registration lists.”

Several county registrars filed affidavits on Tuesday to demonstrate the number of voters they had removed from lists submitted by the state. Fauquier County Registrar Alexander A. Ables said he had identified 449 records that should be canceled, out of the 519 records the state Board had flagged. Alexandria Registrar Tom Perkins identified 1,049 of 1,186 voters whose registration should be canceled. And Greg S. Riddlemoser, the Stafford County registrar, found 829 records out of 953 the state flagged that should be cancelled.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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