On Thursday August 9th, the Virginia Board of Elections announced that it had purged the State’s voter rolls of thousands of names. After a comparison with data from the Social Security Administration, the Board removed some 10,000 names of deceased individuals remaining on the registered voter list.
Clearing the voter rolls of inaccurate information is certainly a laudable and appropriate action for the Board to take, but in light of so many voting related maneuvers by the General Assembly and the McDonnell administration over the last year, and bearing in mind the nationwide voter suppression movement that threatens to disenfranchise thousands, possibly millions of Americans, this purge, so close to the election raises inevitable questions.
Along with many other states around the nation where Republicans control the government, the demonstratively fictitious voter fraud “crisis” has been used as a wedge to insert new, often misguided and sometimes clearly partisan election laws and rules that together have come to be viewed under the umbrella of “voter suppression” due to their clear tendency towards disenfranchising specific classes of voters like the poor, the elderly, college students and minorities with a track record of voting primarily for the other party.
While any single piece of legislation or administrative action may seem innocuous on its face, and even be justified by a professed concern for accuracy, taken as a whole these initiatives appear to constitute a direct attempt to alter the voting landscape in order to affect the upcoming election and elections in the future in a way favorable to the incumbent party.
With this in mind we’d like to raise the following points about what has been going on in Virginia this election cycle:
- There simply is NO evidence of voter fraud in the Commonwealth. NONE.
- In particular, there is NO evidence of widespread or even small scale impersonation (which is what the I.D. laws are supposedly intended to stop), as a means of voter fraud. NONE.
- There is NO evidence that ANY of the 10,000 names removed from the rolls were used to cast an illegal vote in Virginia. NOT ONE.
- There is NO evidence that anyone has voted under the name of a cartoon character or as their pet, an example often held up as a justification for such laws. Just because someone fills out a registration form with a joke name doesn’t mean that name passes muster with registrars. Removing those bogus names is the job of our registrars, and they appear to be doing it well.
- While the voter I.D. law that passed this year expanded the forms of identification allowable at the polls, it also imposes a provisional ballot on anyone without I.D. This ballot will not be counted on election day unless the voter returns and provides one of the forms of identification specified under the new law. In such a case the voter must then go the extra step of later submitting it to their local registrar by 12 noon Friday after the election. Since these new provisional ballots are not the same as real ballots, and will not be tallied without the voter’s further effort to prove their identity, there is strong evidence that many people who cast such ballots cannot or will not go through the expense, time and trouble to complete the procedure, thus resulting in otherwise legal votes never being recorded.
- We have concerns about the process of issuing new voter cards to every citizen in the Commonwealth so close to the election. There is bound to be confusion and mistakes will be made associated with this roll out, and there is little doubt that the most vulnerable members of the community will be the most affected by errors or delays.
- The state has yet to do any voter education regarding the new voter registration cards and the new I.D. law. This may prove particularly problematic for the poor, the elderly and voters for whom English is not a first language.
- We have history to draw from, and there is new evidence that some conservative groups plan to profile and target likely opposition voters with challenges at the polls, both as an attempt to frighten certain groups and to generally muddy and slow the voting process.
- Voting machines in Virginia are NOT required to keep a paper trail of votes cast. There is ample evidence that voting machines are vulnerable to tampering and hacking, and while we do not question the integrity of individual registrars, we are concerned about a process that relies on an unverifiable technology with proven problems.
Last year at the General Assembly we saw a raft of bills designed to limit access to the polls. We managed to defeat many of the most severe, but the effort to make it harder for certain Virginians to vote did not end there. Across the country the effort to disenfranchise voters continues on many fronts and in many insidious ways, for instance, the tendency of having fewer voting machines at polling stations in working class and minority neighborhoods – which results in longer lines and a curtailed opportunity for people in these communities to vote.
At a time when we should be encouraging participation by underrepresented Virginians, we could be creating a generally more hostile environment where certain voters are made to feel more like suspects than citizens.
We are worried that all these factors will add up to fewer people exercising their right to vote at a time when participation is already historically low. That is why we will continue to closely monitor this process and speak out when we have concerns.
The right to vote is at the heart of our democracy, and partisan attempts to make it harder for some to exercise that right damage our communities, our Commonwealth and our country.
APV Public Policy Team.