Election officials across Virginia are grappling with how to follow through with a directive from the State Board of Elections to purge up to 57,000 registered voters from the state rolls — a move that has prompted a lawsuit from the Democratic Party of Virginia and outright defiance by at least one registrar.
The state, working this year for the first time as part of a multistate program intended to validate voters, says it is required by law to conduct maintenance on voter lists and is not canceling voters but directing local registrars to review registrants carefully. The program provides information to election boards about voters who are registered in more than one state.
But the timing of the move — weeks before the state's gubernatorial election — has raised eyebrows. The state Democratic Party filed a lawsuit this month and asked a federal court for an injunction. A high number of registered voters and a large turnout generally are considered to be advantages for Democrats.
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18 — three days after the voter registration deadline passes in Virginia.
"Local election officials in counties throughout the state have identified countless errors in the SBE's list of 57,000," the lawsuit says. It further argues that the purge is being enforced by Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, "notwithstanding the direct conflict of interest that Cuccinelli has as the Republican gubernatorial candidate."
About 5.2 million people overall were registered to vote in Virginia as of Oct. 1.
Chesterfield County registrar Lawrence Haake has determined that close to 200 people on the list of 2,262 provided to him are qualified Virginia voters and has indicated that he will delay checking the lists until next year because there is not enough time before the Nov. 5 election to do so properly.
The state board said in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Mr. Haake "made no good-faith attempt to process the double and sometimes triple registrations in his jurisdiction," and that the city of Richmond was able to process its list of 930 duplicate registrations "in no more than 30 man-hours."
The board also responded by saying it identified 167 voters on the list who voted last November, two of whom appear to have "doubled voted" in another state as well.
"[T]hese were not errors; rather they are duplication registrations that require additional analysis and the general registrar is the person mandated by law to conduct this review and take action," the board told the newspaper.
Federal law prohibits states from removing voters from registration lists within 90 days of a federal primary or election, but the Department of Justice has not indicated whether that rule is binding for state elections as well.
Nevertheless, the lawsuit alleges the state is "running roughshod" over the guidance provided by the federal policy.
The campaign of Mr. Cuccinelli's opponent, businessman and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, claims it has collected more than 21,000 signatures on an online petition against the move.
But Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, called the lawsuit "spurious and baseless" and said that suing Mr. Cuccinelli personally is a "shameless stunt."
"The Democratic Party's assertion that 'Cuccinelli is actively involved in implementing the purging campaign' is an outright lie, which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the party can provide no facts in its complaint to back the assertion," Mr. Gottstein said. "While a career assistant AG does provide routine legal advice to the state board, the Democratic Party's baseless assertion that the attorney general 'is enforcing the SBE's unlawful purging of voters' is patently false."
Another wrinkle in the case is the partial shutdown of the federal government. Federal courts across the country have indicated that they will be able to stay open through Oct. 17 and possibly longer.
A hearing on the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Alexandria, is scheduled for Oct. 18.
The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 5 election in Virginia is Tuesday.
Voters can check their registration status and polling place at www.vote.virginia.gov, by contacting their registrar's office or by calling 800/552-9745.
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