- - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Virginia residents who make mistakes on their voter-registration forms may find themselves declared noncitizens and ineligible to vote by their county boards of elections, regardless of their actual status.

Nineteen people in Prince William County received letters declaring them noncitizens in the two months leading up to the Oct. 15 deadline to register to vote in November, said Betty Weimer, the general registrar at the county board.

One of them was a Prince William County man, who asked not to be identified. He said he received one of these letters from the county board on Sept. 15. The letter stated he had been “declared a noncitizen and no longer entitled to be registered to vote.” The man is — and always had been — a U.S. citizen, his fiancee said.

None of the other people who received the letters contacted the Board of Elections about them, Ms. Weimer said.

Ms. Weimer said that elections staff looks through voter-registration information on a continuous basis to ensure that the voter rolls are current. When problems are found — such as a voter who has died or registered in another jurisdiction — those issues are pulled together for the state in a monthly report. When questions arise about a person’s citizenship, those items also go into the report.

Counties take the monthly reports and begin removing those questionable voters from the rolls.

Ms. Weimer said the error that removed the man from the voting rolls may have come from a mistake on his registration application.

There are a few places where errors can be made in voter registration. Voters can register either through their local board of elections or while applying for driver’s licenses or state ID cards at the Department of Motor Vehicles. In both cases, voters are asked to say whether they are U.S. citizens.

Nikki Sheridan, confidential policy adviser at the State Board of Elections, said the state board verifies a person’s citizenship status using the forms he or she fills out to register. One section on the form asks people to check off a box indicating if they are U.S. citizens. The form also asks for the applicant’s Social Security number, used to verify citizenship if a person mistakenly checked the wrong box.

“An affirmation of citizenship is required at that time, and it does not require supporting documentation,” Ms. Sheridan said in an email.

The Department of Motor Vehicles provides the State Board of Elections with a monthly report listing those who tried to register to vote, but indicated noncitizenship status, said Ms. Sheridan. The state board then contacts local boards, who send voter-registration cancellation notices to their residents.

Three letters are sent out to residents, said Ms. Weimer.

“It gives people the opportunity to tell us whether or not the information is correct,” she said.

The first letter “indicates an intent to cancel,” and the person is given two weeks to contact the office. In the second letter, the person is informed that his or her voter registration has been canceled. The final one states the noncitizen status.

Though declaring someone a noncitizen may sound harsh, Ms. Sheridan said that’s the way the State Board of Elections has written the form letters that are sent out by counties.

“The locality doesn’t have a choice. We put the forms out, and that’s what is utilized,” Ms. Sheridan said.

Anyone who is improperly disqualified from voting for citizenship reasons can have voter registration reinstated by providing the local board of elections office with supporting documentation, said Claire C. Gardner, a legislative aide to Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican.

The man who found his voter registration canceled said he did not receive the first two letters warning him about the discrepancy. When he received the third one last month, his fiancee said he did not have enough time to call off from work to rectify the situation.

Ms. Gardner said the man should have received the letter earlier.

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