RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Elections erroneously mailed letters to 125,000 voters who recently moved within the state, alerting them that they may no longer be eligible to vote in Virginia.
The letters should have been sent to voters who moved out of state, but because of human error, were sent to voters who still live in Virginia. While potentially confusing, the letters did not trigger the purging of any voters from the rolls.
“We are working quickly to remedy this mistake with a new mailing to the impacted voters,” Edgardo Cortés, commissioner of the Department of Elections, said in a statement. “No voter has been or will be removed from the rolls based simply on receiving this letter.”
Cortés urged voters to verify their address at vote.virginia.gov or call their local registrar. The state will send follow-up letters to reassure voters that their registration was not canceled, he said.
The misleading letters, dated June 23, read in part: “State law requires that you update and/or cancel your voter registration when you change residences.”
Elections officials are under pressure to fix the error as soon as possible to avoid disenfranchising voters. The letters could hamper turnout not only for the U.S. Senate race and several congressional races on the November ballot, but also for the Aug. 19 special election in a key state senatorial district.
The only Democrat representing southwest Virginia in the General Assembly, Phillip P. Puckett resigned from the Senate last month, giving Republicans an excellent shot at picking up the district and control of the upper chamber.
Matt Davis, the chief information officer at the Department of Elections, alerted state registrars to the mistake Wednesday and referred them to the state’s voter database, called VERIS, to verify voter information.
“If you receive a call from a voter regarding this, please let them know that the letter was sent in error and then verify that their current address in VERIS is correct,” he wrote in the message. “We apologize for this error.”
Donald Palmer, who sits on the three-member state Board of Elections, said the U.S. Postal Service and the state Department of Motor Vehicles notify the Department of Elections of address changes.
“The silver lining is [voters], if they get something like this, will go online and confirm or update their registration address,” he said.
Yet voting rights advocates worry that the letters will discourage turnout.
ProgressVA Education Fund, the Virginia New Majority Education Fund, and Fair Elections Legal Network sent a letter Wednesday to Cortés urging the department to assure voters of their registration status, to take additional steps to contact voters in Puckett’s former district and to set up a hotline to address questions.
“Voting is at the heart of what it means to be an American,” the letter says. “Any action, intentional or accidental, which impedes that right is a serious threat to our democracy and should be addressed as such. On top of changing voting rules this year, the voter confusion this mailing could create is unacceptable if even one eligible voter is dissuaded from exercising their constitutional right.”