Virginia officials are probing a case in which completed voter-registration forms were said to have been tossed into a trash bin outside of a store in the Shenandoah Valley just before Monday’s 5 p.m. registration deadline — the latest incident in what’s already been a rather eventful election year in the Old Dominion.
Rob Johnson, manager of the store Tuesday Morning in Harrisonburg, said he saw a man pull up in a car on Monday, throw something in his trash bin, then drive away.
After sifting through the garbage bag — perilously close to the 5 p.m. voter-registration deadline — Mr. Johnson found a folder with eight voter-registration forms already filled out.
Luckily, Doug Geib, the Rockingham County registrar, said the eight forms were delivered to his office before the deadline. After getting advice from the State Board of Elections, the five people who were not already registered were cleared, he said.
“Everybody that had not been on our records is now registered to vote,” he said.
Mr. Geib said Wednesday that the county sheriff’s office was still investigating whether the incident involved criminal activity.
“For the most part, this is an unusual instance,” said Donald Palmer, secretary of the State Board of Elections, stressing that third-party groups that register voters “have to take the job of taking a voter registration for another person very seriously.”
“They almost disenfranchised people,” he said.
On his Facebook page Monday afternoon, Mr. Johnson wrote about the incident, which was then reported by WVIR-TV Channel 29, an NBC affiliate in Charlottesville.
Mr. Palmer said an outreach program the board began in May has received positive feedback from local registrars but that some incidents involving voter registration have been reported elsewhere.
“Not like this,” he said. “Not where registrations were thrown into garbage cans.”
The theme of voter fraud, however, has been percolating in the state since December, when then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich blamed his failing to turn in the requisite number of petition signatures to secure a spot on the state’s primary ballot on a rogue campaign worker “who frankly committed fraud.”
Mr. Gingrich, along with then-candidates Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman Jr., later joined a lawsuit filed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an attempt to get their names on the ballot.
(Corrected paragraph:) Once they were denied, the outcome of the March primary was never in doubt, with GOP nominee Mitt Romney cruising to victory in a head-to-head matchup with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Mr. Romney and Mr. Paul were the only Republican candidates to turn in the required 10,000 valid signatures, including 400 from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts.
In the midst of the legal proceedings and the primary came rancorous debate during the 2012 General Assembly session over proposed voter-identification laws Democratic legislators quickly used to invoke the days when poll taxes and Jim Crow laws were routine in the home of the former Confederate capital. Proponents of the measure, which ended up passing, said its object was to curb potential voter fraud. The final bill actually expands the forms of ID voters can present at the polls to include items such as utility bills and recent bank statements. Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, directed the board of elections to send new voter-registration cards to every active registered voters in the state. The votes of those who do not present proper identification will be counted provisionally.
In July, Mr. Romney’s campaign asked state Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and the board of elections to launch a criminal investigation into the Voter Participation Center. Using mailing lists from sources such as magazine subscriptions, the D.C.-based group mailed material to potentially thousands who cannot legally vote, ranging from pets to the deceased to non-U.S. citizens.
The board ultimately declined to request a criminal probe into the matter, though the VPC agreed to stop using voter-registration forms that are already filled out.