Registrars work to avoid mistakes in so-called 'voter purge'

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by Janet Roach, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 6:55 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 1 at 7:00 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- As the registrar of Virginia's largest city, Donna Patterson's list of potential ineligible voters is more than 4,000 people long.

"It's up to us as individual registrars to look at every name and every voter and do the research before removing them," says Patterson.

To date, a little more than 200 people have been removed from voter rolls and sent a notice saying they can no longer vote in Virginia Beach.

All over the state, registrars were given this duty in late August to complete by election day on November 5. The effort is part of the Intrastate Voter Crosscheck Program entered into by 21 states to make sure registrations weren't duplicated across their borders. So far, more than 38,000 names have been removed in Virginia.

Immediately, the democratic party took issue and filed a lawsuit against the state board of elections, Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, seeking to stop what they called a 'voter purge.' Party spokesperson Brian Coy says the effort was a huge burden to place on local registrars at a time when they are concerned about administering an election.

The lawsuit, which was struck down by a U.S. District Court judge in mid October, says 57,000 registered voters were identified for potential removal. It claims the list is "replete with errors and includes thousands of Virginians who reside in Virginia and are lawfully registered to vote."

In Chesterfield County, the republican registrar, Lawrence Haake, was criticized by the State Board of Elections after he said he found errors on the list and chose to delay taking any action to remove voters until after the election. Coy says that's what they wanted all along.

"The manner the state board went about this was hurried unnecessarily," Coy said.

Virginia Beach may be proof that the order was too much, too soon. Patterson says she stopped investigating the names around October 15, the last day to register to vote. If there was a conflict, she wanted people to be able to register if they found themselves removed from the city voter roll.

The city has examined about 700 others on the list but hasn't made a decision on whether they should be removed. Patterson won't say if they found errors.

"We still have a lot more names we need to look at but at this stage, we're waiting until after the election," Patterson said. 

It's a similar situation in Hampton. Only 68 names have been removed from the list and the registrar still has to go through 1100 names on a list that had 1273 names.

State Board of Elections Deputy Secretary Justin Riemer says the board is okay with registrars shifting their focus to Tuesday's election for now, but expects them to take up the issue later. He says every registrar, except for Haake in Chesterfield County, took some sort of action on the updating their rolls.  He pushes back on accusations that the list had errors.

"It's mischaracterized that there were errors on the list. I believe one person was registered in seven states. At no point did we expect registrars to throw out the names, they were meant to be investigated, " says Riemer.

Coy says the other big issue that bothered party officials was Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's role as counsel to the state board.

"That's a real conflict of interest. I don't think that anyone thinks that's a good idea," Coy said.  

Party officials called for Cuccinelli to recuse himself.  His office has said Cuccinelli is not actively participating in the purging campaign.

Elections officials say if anyone is removed off the roll in error they can file a provisional ballot that will ultimately be counted.

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