Mitt Romney’s campaign has asked Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli to launch an investigation into a nonprofit group’s mailing of voter registration materials to ineligible voters in the state — including cats, dogs, infants and, yes, the dead.
Using mailing lists from sources such as magazine subscriptions, the Washington, D.C.-based Voter Participation Center has mailed material to potentially thousands who cannot legally vote, ranging from pets to the deceased to non-U.S. citizens.
Kathryn Biber, general counsel for the Romney campaign, wrote to Mr. Cuccinelli and Charles Judd, chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections, noting that voter registration forms had been sent out “pre-populated” with names belonging to recipients’ dead relatives, children, noncitizen relatives, convicted felons, and cats and dogs.
Ms. Biber listed several Virginia laws that prohibit people from intentionally falsifying a registration application or persuading a voter to provide false information on an application.
“By sending pre-populated voter registration applications to persons (and animals) not eligible to vote, the Voter Participation Center is likely in violation of one or more of these laws,” Ms. Biber wrote.
She also cited comments from the secretary of the elections board, Donald L. Palmer, that “hundreds if not thousands, of applications were delivered to those ineligible to vote” from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which first reported the news.
Elections board spokesman Justin Riemer said the board has received more than 750 complaints about the forms VPC has mailed since mid-June.
Virginia law requires the voter — not a third party — to fill out his or her own voter application. Ms. Biber requested that the elections board require rejection of pre-populated voter-registration applications that come from the VPC. She also wanted the board to collect the names of all the people registered in the past two months and review their eligibility to register and vote.
“This is the only way for voters and other interested parties to regain confidence in the voter registration electoral process that has been abused by the Voter Participation Center,” she wrote.
The VPC describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit that focuses on registering and turning out the rising American electorate — unmarried women, people of color and young voters.”
On Wednesday, the group called on Mr. Cuccinelli to refuse to investigate its efforts and deny the campaign’s request for the elections board to direct registrars to refuse to accept forms VPC sent out, which it called “official, state approved voter registration applications submitted by eligible voters in the Commonwealth.”
Peter J. Kadzik, a lawyer for Dickstein Shapiro working on behalf of VPC, wrote to Mr. Cuccinelli on Wednesday that “these actions by the Romney campaign may rise to the level of interference with legitimate voter registration efforts contrary to applicable state and federal laws.”
“We believe the attempt by the Romney campaign may rise to legally interfering for Virginians to register and vote,” said Page Gardner, VPC president. She called the requests “absolutely wrong and absolutely outrageous.”
“This cannot be an excuse on the part of some people to shut down a legitimate effort to make sure more and more people are registered,” Ms. Gardner said.
As of July 18, 15,026 new voters in Virginia have registered as a result of the mail campaign, according to VPC spokesman Steve Hirsh.
In his letter, Mr. Kadzik noted that the VPC’s upcoming September mailings will not be pre-populated, at the request of the elections board.
“The VPC certainly does not intend to mail to already registered or ineligible voters, deceased individuals or pets,” Mr. Kadzik wrote. “Virginia citizens who receive an application that is addressed to someone who is ineligible to register (including themselves) should simply discard it.”
Ms. Gardner said VPC has a list of “hundreds and hundreds” of common pet names it excludes from mailing lists.
“If a person wants to commit a felony by filling out a form illegally, clearly that’s way outside our control,” Ms. Gardner said.
Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Mr. Cuccinelli, said that any type of investigation by the attorney general’s office would have to be requested by the elections board, which hasn’t happened so far.
“Our job right now is to advise our client, the state board, as they work to ensure the law is complied with and that the voter registration process is not compromised,” he said.
Mr. Judd said the elections board has to examine the requests stated in the letter. He said he does not think the authors of the Romney campaign letter are familiar with Virginia law. “But that’s OK because we’re prepared to process the eligible registration forms,” he said.
VPC voter-registration forms also have gone out to people — and pets and the deceased — in Maryland.
Maryland Director of Voter Registration Mary Cramer Wagner said she personally has received about 25 complaints from residents who received forms from VPC. Now the receptionist just gives out VPC’s phone number when people call.
“I appreciate any and all efforts to get people to get registered, but it’s very heartbreaking when you’re talking to a mother who lost her daughter seven years ago and gets a piece of mail, and it just breaks your heart,” Ms. Wagner said, “You’d think after seven years, what is that name doing on any list?”