KELLY: Sit down, you're rocking the vote

Inspecting the voter registry right before an election invites errors

If you’re registered to vote here in Virginia, you may want to check again. The statewide process of removing incorrectly registered voters from Virginia’s voting rolls has been anything but smooth; errors have abounded, removing many correctly registered voters from the rolls. The months prior to an election are not a suitable time for such a task. We need to take the politics out of the process by mandating a neutral time for examining the voter rolls.

This past year, the state of Virginia joined a program known as the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck,” run by the Kansas Board of Elections. The program seeks to identify duplicate voter registrations. The recent purge of voters from the rolls, however, has been imprudently rushed. If a state decides to clean the voter rolls of improperly registered voters, it should provide an equitable amount of time to complete the process sensibly.

The project started during August when the Virginia State Board of Elections began distributing lists of voters to the offices of various county registrars. Chesterfield County received its designated list —2,200 names of active and inactive voters — in late August. An inspection by county registrar Lawrence C. Haake III (a Republican) uncovered 170 errors out of 1,000 active voters. Among the errors were voters who had been purged because of out-of-state registrations more than 10 years older than their registrations in Virginia. Instead of following the advice of the county electoral board and immediately purging the selected names, Haake argued that the purge process should be postponed until such a time that it could be done properly. The process has continued unimpeded in other counties, however.

This hasty time frame creates serious consequences. For example, the disorder of the process has prevented the registrar for Arlington County from receiving its “purge” list until September. The rush leads to inevitable problems. For one, the example of Chesterfield county indicates that the data records are critically flawed. The risk of wrongly eliminating duly registered voters from the rolls is too high. At this time of the year, if a voter is removed from the rolls, he or she would have little indication of the removal and practically no time to amend the error, given that Oct. 15 was the deadline to register.

Partisanship, however, is the core issue. Though many names on the lists may be lawfully removed from the rolls, there is a serious risk of unjust exclusion. The pressure-filled environment preceding an election creates a stressful setting in which errors are likely to and do in fact occur. The county registrars and members of the boards of election, furthermore, are biased and possess too much discretionary power. Of the three members of each county’s board of elections, two must be of the governor’s party — in this case, Republican. Many of these individuals in charge of “purging” the voter rolls have been appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell and thus potentially carry a partisan agenda.

In an election that is already likely to have low voter turnout because of various factors such as voter apathy and dissatisfaction with candidates, this chaotic process will only contribute to even lower turnout. The confusion and uncertainty involving the voter rolls not only dissuades voting but may also create delays at the polls and thus deter many individuals who intended to vote from doing so. The disorder of this process will only increase voter apathy, driving turnout to very low levels.

This deplorable scenario can be avoided. This should begin with a petition to withdraw the state’s participation in the “Crosscheck” program. The program wrongly equates errors in voter data with voter fraud. Its method of identifying double voting is imprecise at best; reliable evidence of double voting, moreover, is also quite hard to find. The state should apply more reasonable regulations to the maintenance of the voter rolls. Mandating a specific inspection time would help to preclude the possibility of voter confusion and prevent interference with the state’s elections.

For federal elections, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires that such investigations of the voter rolls be completed at least 90 days prior to a general election. Reforming the composition of the state’s voter roll immediately prior to a statewide election, as is the case currently, creates confusion and limits voter turnout. These effects tempt individuals to use voter “purges” as a partisan device to sway elections. A neutral time for the maintenance of the state’s voter rolls should be mandated, perhaps in the “90-days prior” style of the federal regulation, to help prevent this political maneuvering. As it exists now, the voter roll is not insulated from indirect partisan manipulation.

Conor Kelly is a Viewpoint columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

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