A Loudoun County grand jury has indicted 15 people on charges of lying about their criminal records on voter registration forms, the outgrowth of a 1998 state audit that claimed Virginia had thousands of convicted felons and dead people on its voter rolls.
The indictments represent what is believed to be the largest criminal crackdown on ineligible voters since the audit. But it comes as officials acknowledge that their initial statewide count of ineligible voters--11,221 felons and nearly 1,500 dead people--vastly overstated the problem.
"It is probably well under 1,000 statewide and could be a hundred or two," said Hugh Key, deputy secretary of the State Board of Elections. "Every time we look at what the situation is, the numbers keep going down, not up."
Virginia is one of 14 states that do not allow felons to vote after they have served their sentences, although felons can ask the governor to restore their voting rights.
Some of the people initially identified as ineligible voters had previously had their voting rights restored, Key said. Others had been charged with felonies that were later reduced to misdemeanors, and the defendants never lost their voting rights.
Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson said the local registrar in February sent him the names of about 45 registered voters identified in the audit as convicted felons. Further investigation showed that a handful had previously had their voting rights restored. Some of the rest may be indicted later, Anderson said.
The 15 people in the indictments handed down Monday are charged with two counts of felony perjury each. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Anderson said that some of the defendants have multiple felony convictions and that some have voted several times.
"Some of these people are violent offenders--beatings, and breaking and enterings, and grand larcenies," Anderson said. "They filled out the voter registration, and in the area where it said 'Have you ever been convicted of a felony?' they checked 'no.' . . . I believe this should be taken seriously."
One of those indicted, Jeffrey B. Abramson, 43, of Leesburg, who runs a catering business, said he has voted at least four times. "I had a teenage conviction, and I was under the impression it would be expunged," he said.
Another, John J. Robbins Jr., 33, said he hasn't been to the polls since his 1988 robbery conviction. "I never even touched a voter registration form," he said. He said he did go to the Department of Motor Vehicles in 1997 to change the address on his driver's license but doesn't recall registering under the "motor-voter" law.
Prosecutors and election officials in other Virginia jurisdictions said they are still reviewing lists of potentially ineligible voters produced by the audit.
Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said county authorities aren't pursuing any prosecutions from the list at this time.
In Fairfax County, deputy registrar Gary Scott said the state initially sent the office a list of 575 ineligible or dead voters. The state later sent a revised list, removing the names of 67 people whose voting rights had been restored.
Fairfax sent a letter to each of the voters "to help get it sorted out," Scott said. Forty-two people responded and agreed they should be removed from the voter rolls; some had been listed in error; some were dead; and 267 were taken from the registration lists when they did not reply, Scott said.
Some of those 267 people have contacted the office arguing that they were removed from the rolls in error, Scott said. Elections officials advise those people to call the Virginia State Police, Scott said.
Dozens of convicted felons have their voting rights restored each year by applying to the governor through the secretary of the commonwealth's office. If the governor approves, he issues an executive order to that effect. Applicants must have completed their sentence, probation and parole and must have been citizens in good standing for five to seven years, depending on the offense.
Staff writer Craig Timberg and Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.