Maureen Erickson’s husband was stunned to see his wife’s name appear as key evidence in a report last month about people who had been kicked off Virginia’s voting rolls for being noncitizens.
In fact, Todd Erickson said, his wife is an American citizen and while she does work as a missionary in Guatemala, her cancellation from Prince William County’s voter rolls in 2012 was a mistake resulting from the confusing voter registration system.
Her case is a timely warning as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments next term on how far states are allowed to go in purging their voter rolls.
Ms. Erickson’s name popped up when the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a voter integrity group, was pushing for information from Virginia to gauge how messy the state’s voter rolls are.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation obtained records of everyone who had been registered at one point but got kicked off voter rolls later after having been declared noncitizens.
State records showed more than 5,500 noncitizens who had been registered this decade but got kicked off the rolls because they admitted to being ineligible. Of those, 1,852 had managed to cast ballots.
One of the names that stood out was Ms. Erickson’s. She voted in election after election but was listed as living in Guatemala, and she got kicked off the rolls in 2012 after indicating to the state that she was a noncitizen.
When The Washington Times highlighted her name last month, her husband, friends and neighbors contacted the paper, surprised to see that she had been culled from the voting lists.
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, said the group was using Virginia’s own voting records, which did in fact cancel her registration because it deemed her a noncitizen.
“For Erickson to land on this list, she would have given contradictory claims of eligibility and, after a period of official review and outreach from the commonwealth, failed to clarify her status,” Mr. Churchwell said. “Whether she is legitimately registered ‘now’ does not discount the fact that the commonwealth deemed her otherwise previously.”
He said it’s an issue for the state.
Under the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the motor-voter law, states were pushed to try to sign up more people to vote — including by asking those who show up at their motor vehicle bureaus to register. But states were also charged with keeping their voter rolls clean.
Those directives sometimes conflict, and states are increasingly under pressure from both sides: activists who want to make voting as easy as possible, and integrity advocates who fear fraudulent votes could skew elections.
Republican-led states are increasingly pushing for cleaner rolls, which means removing names of those they believe have died, moved out of the jurisdiction or were never qualified in the first place.
Millions of voters are removed from states’ rolls every cycle.
For the 2013-2014 cycle, states erased 14.8 million names, according to data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. From 2011 to 2012, the number was 13.7 million.
The most common reason was failure to vote in successive elections. Following that was the death of a voter or a move to another jurisdiction.
Ohio has asked the Supreme Court to hear a case to reinstate its method for cleaning voter rolls. The state spots voters who haven’t cast ballots in federal elections and notifies them they are in danger of being culled from the lists. Voters who don’t respond and don’t vote in subsequent federal elections can be removed.
Jonathan Brater, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, said Ohio’s policy is illegal because it is not triggered by any evidence that a voter has fallen out of status, but has only failed to vote.
“Voter list maintenance is important. It’s something they should do. But it needs to be done in a way that’s responsible,” he said.
Ms. Erickson’s case is different from the one in Ohio. She was purged because she indicated to the state that she was a noncitizen.
Prince William County was notified by the state in July 2012, and that triggered an automatic check. A letter was sent to the address Ms. Erickson had on file with election officials — in Guatemala.
“We did not receive a response and, after 14 days as proscribed by law, we removed her from the voting roles,” said Winston Forrest, the election communications coordinator for the county.
Virginia’s elections commissioner, Edgardo Cortes, said he couldn’t talk about Ms. Erickson’s case specifically but suggested her situation isn’t shocking.
“It happens all the time where people accidentally indicate ‘no’ to citizenship and either don’t receive the letter or don’t return it in time before the removal happens,” he said.
He said those are reasons that groups such as the Public Interest Legal Foundation should be careful about reading too much into voter data about noncitizens.
Mr. Cortes said elections officials appear to have followed the law and that there is no need to change state laws. He said officials should instead see whether there are less-confusing ways to ask the voting questions of those who show up at the DMV.
Mr. Erickson said relying on a notice sent to Guatemala to verify Ms. Erickson’s status was “a risk at best.”
“In short, we never received it and therefore were not able to respond in time,” he said.
He said his wife didn’t respond to a question about citizenship at the DMV, and he thinks that was what prompted the process that led to her removal. She has since moved her home in the U.S. to Loudoun County, and Mr. Erickson says she is registered to vote there.
He bristled at the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s decision to highlight his wife’s case.
“That is what happened from our perspective. Maureen was born in the U.S. to U.S. citizens and has voted ever since she was 18,” he said in emails to The Times. “I think it is odd that they chose ‘Maureen Erickson’ as their poster child for voter fraud. There was obviously not much additional research done on the person that they held up as an example of this illegal activity.”
Election officials, though, say Ms. Erickson didn’t just avoid a question; she also checked a box that indicated she wasn’t a citizen.
Virginia now uses an electronic application system that Mr. Cortes said he hopes will cut down on some of the confusion.
Mr. Brater, the lawyer at the Brennan Center, said Ms. Erickson’s situation underscores the need for a public notice of some kind before someone is stricken from the rolls. He also cautioned against reading too much into reports about fraud.
“The fact that there are outdated voter rolls doesn’t necessarily mean any illegal voting is occurring,” he said.