By Sarah Wiley, Editor
On Friday October 18, a federal district judge in Virginia’s northern district rejected the Democratic Party’s request for an injunction blocking the removal of 38,000 voters from the Virginia voter rolls. Democrats contended that the lists used to remove voters are inaccurate.
The road to this case emerged in the spring of 2013, when the state board of elections, in an attempt to combat voter fraud, decided to examine the Virginia voter rolls to weed out voters also registered in other states. The purge was conducted using a program called Crosscheck, which matches Virginia’s rolls against voters registered in other states. Crosscheck revealed 308,000 Virginia voters with duplicate registrations. Twenty-five states use this program. Democrats contend that it is “deeply flawed.”
The decision to remove voters from the rolls resulted from Virginia state code “§ 24.2-404(4) and the newly enacted §§ 24.2-404(10) and 24.2-404.4 effective July 1, 2013. These statutes collectively require the State Board of Elections” (SBE) to coordinate with other states to identify and remove duplicate voter registrations to avoid voter fraud, explained Secretary of State Board of Elections Don Palmer in an interview with State of Elections (SOE). The board then voted “to refer any alleged double voting” to the office of the Attorney General, headed by gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.
“While not widespread there have been instances of double voting by individuals with registrations in two states,” Palmer said.
He explained the process narrowing the initial 308,000 duplicate registration voters to the 38,000 voters actually removed from the voter rolls:
After receiving the initial list of 308,000 duplicate voters, minus those who had already been removed for other reasons, “the General Registrar then review[ed] the data provided in a spreadsheet on each registration and also reviewed our statewide database and voter history to determine if there was any registration or voting history of the individual to indicate that the person may have moved back to Virginia or voted in Virginia. If so, the individual should not be removed from the voter rolls. If there was no subsequent history of registration or voting in Virginia, the individuals should be cancelled pursuant to the notice from the other state” where they are registered, Secretary Palmer explained. He added that where contact information was available, some registrars called or e-mailed flagged individuals to confirm their status as a Virginia resident.
Palmer explained that the removal process was not thrown together just weeks before the general election, nor were registered voters told to “remove everyone on the list of potential cancellations.” Palmer believes the public has the “perception that there was ‘mass purging’ ordered by the SBE going up and until Election Day.” In fact, he explains, the process began in late August and was completed by October 1, as required by the Virginia Code.
Virginia Democrats’ Director of Voter Protection Matthew Weinstein underscored the Democratic Party’s objection to the removal process in an interview with SOE, saying that Democrats were concerned with how quickly the purge occurred, as well as its oversight by the Office of the Attorney General when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is on the ballot and stands to benefit from the purge.
Particularly troubling to Virginia Democrats, local registrars were given the lists and told to exercise their “best judgment” in deciding which voters on the list to remove. Weinstein explained “factually, the 2013 purge case… was quite similar to Bush v. Gore because many counties were using different standards to review the list of voters the SBE sent them. Voters were treated differently depending on where they lived, which is what raised red flags for us.”
Both Weinstein and Secretary Palmer agreed that voters erroneously removed from the roles have the recourse of casting provisional ballots, which will eventually be counted (though they will be required to fill out additional paperwork).
“The SBE has said that anyone casting a provisional ballot because of the purge should have their vote counted if their most recent voting activity was in Virginia. What this means is that if you voted in Virginia more recently than in any other state you should not worry about having your vote count this year,” Weinstein explained.
Secretary Palmer also strongly objected referring to this removal as a “purge” which he defines as a descriptor for problematic activities from before the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) was enacted in the 1990s. Secretary Palmer explained that “under federal and state law, when a state or local election official notifies another state of the fact that [an] individual has moved to or registered in their state, that registration serves as adequate notice to remove the voter [from the rolls] in the former state of residence.” He continued, “canceling duplicate registrations is an established removal process across the country, including in Virginia.”
Whether the removal of 38,000 voters from Virginia’s voter rolls will have an impact on Tuesday’s election remains to be seen.