Virginia’s Board of Elections has removed nearly 39,000 voters from the rolls even as officials prepare to defend the state from a lawsuit brought by Democrats challenging whether a “purge” less than three weeks from Election Day is legal.
Virginia for the first time this year is working as part of a multistate program intended to validate voters and provide information to elections boards about those who are registered in more than one state. Elections board officials have said they were required by law to conduct maintenance on the voter lists and were not canceling voters but directing local registrars to review registrants carefully.
“The standard was clear: if a citizen registered to vote in another state after Virginia, that is a request to cancel their Virginia registration under the law. More than 38,000 individuals did just this and were properly canceled. Over 18,000 Virginia citizens were reviewed and left on Virginia registration rolls,” lawyers for the state argued in a brief filed late Tuesday that disclosed the numbers of voters purged through the Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program.
“In short, the system worked and there is no basis to restore 38,000 out of state voters to Virginia’s voter registration lists,” the brief said.
The Democratic Party of Virginia in its lawsuit argued that local elections officials in counties throughout the state identified “countless errors” in the elections board’s list of 57,000 voters to be reviewed. The party said the Crosscheck program is partisan, noting that it operates in 26 states — 21 of which have Republican-controlled legislatures or a Republican governor.
About 5.2 million people overall were registered to vote in Virginia as of Oct. 1.
Both in Virginia and around the country, laws have been passed in recent years requiring voters to present some form of identification at the polls. The U.S. Department of Justice has sued North Carolina and Texas over their laws, which proponents say are intended to combat unspecified instances of voter fraud but opponents say are attempts to suppress the vote.
A high number of registered voters and a large turnout generally are considered to be advantages for Democrats. President Obama carried Virginia in 2008 and 2012 when more than 70 percent of registered voters turned out, while Republicans made gains in elections in 2009 and 2010 when turnout was 40 percent and 44 percent, respectively.
“The Crosscheck should not disenfranchise a single Virginia voter and there has been no harm caused by the Crosscheck,” elections board Secretary Donald Palmer said in a sworn affidavit that accompanied the filing. “On the contrary, the Crosscheck has served an important governmental purpose in cleaning up the Virginia registration rolls by eliminating from the rolls over 38,000 individuals who clearly registered in another state after registering in Virginia.”
According to Mr. Palmer, an initial Crosscheck list of 308,000 was narrowed to 80,000 and then 57,923.
He said 38,870 registrations were canceled based upon registration in another state after Virginia, 11,138 registrations were left on the Virginia rolls and were still active voters, and 7,285 registrations were left on the Virginia rolls although they remained inactive.
“This is a statewide cancellation rate of 78 percent,” he said.
In the “unlikely” event that a qualified voter was removed from the list, he continued, they would vote by provisional ballot, which is counted during canvassing the day after Election Day once an electoral board determines a voter is eligible.
“Moreover, my guidance expressly directs that even after the close of books, to correct official error, a registration canceled in error may be reinstated.”
Another safeguard allows voters to appeal before the registrar or circuit court, and Mr. Palmer said he was unaware of any case where a disputed report of registration in another state required a hearing before a registrar or judicial correction.