Va. Voters Complain Of Missing Registrations

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Virginia State Board of Elections is investigating allegations that some Virginians were unable to cast ballots Tuesday because voter registration groups did not submit their official registration forms.

State election officials have heard complaints from across the state that voters who registered through a third party were not on voter rolls and were unable to vote in the presidential election. It is unclear how many people were affected by the registration problem, but registrars have said they received numerous provisional ballots from people who claimed they had signed up to vote during registration drives.

"We've heard some stories of individuals who went to the polls to vote, and they said their name wasn't on the poll book," said Susan Pollard, a spokeswoman for the elections board. "They came to find out these people were not registered but claimed they were registered by a third party. We're taking every allegation seriously."

Third-party groups often target underrepresented minorities during registration efforts, collecting forms and sending them in to states. Such registrations are accepted by Virginia, which received as many as 250,000 mail-in forms by the deadline in mid-October.

Election officials said they do not have an indication that the problem is linked to a specific voting group but are hoping to learn more. They are asking voters who suspect that an organization failed to send in their registration to forward a copy of the official registration receipt to election officials. Receipts are supposed to include the name of the third party and the voter.

"We're trying to find out how deep the problem was," said Garry Ellis, voter registration coordinator for the elections board. "I would like to think that there was no coordinated effort to subjugate the registration process. These groups were dealing with huge numbers of applications. It's possible some were misplaced and some were lost."

Ellis said the votes of people who wrongly thought they were registered probably will not be counted, because there is no way to track such registrations, especially if they were never mailed. He said the problem should not affect Virginia's ability to certify the vote.

"We're concerned when there's even one person who tried to take part in the process, and the process didn't work for them," Ellis said. "We are trying to decrease, if not eliminate, this type of thing in the future."

Rokey Suleman, the registrar in Fairfax County, said his staff has come across some provisional ballots that included claims from voters that they had registered with third-party groups.

"I wouldn't say there are a lot of them, but there were some people who said they signed up with some voter registration drives, and we don't have their registrations," Suleman said. "Some people said they signed up in front of a Giant or in their neighborhood. We'd like to clear this up."

Independent voter-rights groups said they were not aware of widespread problems with such registrations, but some said there were reports of people saying that they thought they had registered but were turned away from polling sites

Peggy Sanner, Virginia state coordinator for the Election Protection Program of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said she spoke to one voter who reported the problem and who was relegated to using a provisional ballot. She said her group also had concerns about people who said they registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles but were left off the voter rolls.

"If this were widespread, it would be a very grave problem," Sanner said. "We did not hear it as a recurring issue."

The State Board of Elections has asked that voters who think a third party did not submit their registration send a copy of the registration receipt to 200 N. Ninth Street, Richmond, Va. 23219-3485 and retain the original for their records. For information, contact the State Board of Elections at 804-864-8910 or e-mailgarry.ellis@sbe.virginia.gov.


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