Virginia’s Democratic Party loses challenge against purge of 38,000 voters from rolls

October 18, 2013

A federal judge on Friday rejected an effort by the Virginia Democratic Party to restore more than 38,000 names to the state’s voter rolls that it claimed were possibly purged in error, saying the evidence did not convince him that anyone had been disenfranchised.

“I just don’t find that there’s a strong showing here of any inequitable treatment or the deprivation of anyone’s rights,” U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton said as he denied the Democrats’ request.

The ruling was a slight rebuke to the Democratic Party, which had sued the state Board of Elections, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and hinted that there was a political motive behind the removal of the names.

Lauren Harmon, the party’s executive director, said after the hearing that officials had not decided if they will pursue further legal action but were pleased, at least, that their suit shined a light on what they consider a tainted process.

The lawsuit stemmed from an anti-voter fraud program, known sometimes by the shorthand Crosscheck, that allows officials in the states that use it to compare voter rolls and weed out those who are registered in more than one place. This year, the program flagged more than 300,000 names, and the state forwarded more than 57,000 of those to local election officials for further review and possible removal.

In the lawsuit filed in federal district court in Alexandria, the Democratic Party alleged that the program was rife with error, citing three examples of Virginians who were improperly removed from the voting rolls. They also argued that local election officials were treating the 57,000 names they were supposed to review in different ways. Some, the Democrats said, removed names without any review, while others did not remove any names at all.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lief countered that the Democratic Party’s suit challenged routine maintenance of voter lists.

Local officials, he said, were given discretion in evaluating the names the Crosscheck program flagged to prevent anyone from being disenfranchised.

Lief said that about 38,000 people were ultimately removed from the list because they had registered to vote in another state after their last voting activity in Virginia and that no one else was expected to be taken off the rolls. He conceded that three voters — the cases highlighted by the Democratic Party — were purged from the rolls improperly but noted that they had since been restored.

Anyone else who might have been removed improperly, he said, could cast a provisional ballot.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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