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Sunday, September 22, 2013
Mary "Ken" Rinker is 61, a lifelong Virginian who lives in Botetourt County. She's a regular voter but she's feeling a little sketchy about the upcoming gubernatorial election.
She's not bemoaning what seems like the rotten choice between two flawed major-party candidates. She didn't tell me for whom she's going to vote . Instead, Rinker's afraid of potential shenanigans that could affect the election's outcome one way or another.
She wants it to be fair, and there are a few reasons she's concerned it might not be. We talked Wednesday and Friday about those. One is what Rinker called a recent, Richmond-ordered "voter purge." That's not the way state officials are characterizing it.
On Aug. 23, the State Board of Elections sent a list of 57,000 registered-but-suspect voters to the 133 registrars around the state. It was derived from a cross-check of voter registration rolls in more than 20 other states.
The cross-check was mandated by a law the Virginia General Assembly passed earlier this year. This is the first year Virginia has done interstate cross-check, said Justin Riemer, a spokesman for the board.
Registrars were ordered to check the lists. They're supposed to cancel the registration of voters who appear to have moved to another state and more recently registered to vote there. No specific deadline was given. But another section of state law gives them 30 days to act after they get such lists.
"We're required by law that whenever we're notified, we have to take them off," said Montgomery County Registrar Randall Wertz.
The registrars are now sending cancellation letters to the canceled voters' most recent Virginia address. Roanoke Registrar Lavern Shepherd said her list is 923 names long. "We have 36 pages of names," she told me.
One voter she mailed a cancellation letter to responded with surprise. It turned out he had moved out of Virginia, registered and voted elsewhere, but recently moved back to Roanoke at the same address.
Shepherd couldn't undo the cancellation. So she guided him through the process of reregistering.
The list Wertz got had 836 names. Of those, 16 or 17 were living in Montgomery County and were properly registered, he told me. In other words they probably should not have been on the list in the first place.
Roanoke County Registrar Judy Stokes' list has 762 names on it. "I haven't spent time on the list yet because other things were more pressing right now. We're shorthanded," she said.
"For each name on the list, we have to look at their activity in this state, look at their activity in another state. If we have a phone number we will call them," she said.
That sounds pretty darn time-consuming.
All of which Mary "Ken" Rinker is concerned about.
"The first thing that bothers me is they're waiting until so close to the election," she said. "They could have done this in the spring."
The second thing that bothers her is that voters are being kicked off the Virginia rolls, en masse, for the first time. She argues that a fairer process would be for registrars to send a letter notifying them that their registrations are suspect because of voting activity in other states.
That would give them a chance to object without having to go through re-registration.
The third issue is that there may not be time for people whose registrations are cancelled to re-register. The registration deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15 (because Monday, Oct. 14 is a holiday). Mailed-in registrations must be postmarked by the 15th.
Compared to a presidential election year, "this is going to be a low-turnout election," Rinker said. "If you can keep enough people from voting, you can affect the outcome of the election much more effectively."
Interstate cross-check isn't the only election law change in recent years, of course. One that's gotten much more attention is voter ID. The Virginia General Assembly changed the law once in 2012 to require specific forms of ID, and then changed it again this year to require photo ID when voting.
But the 2013 law doesn't take effect until 2014, which means you don't have to present photo ID to vote in November's election. A voter ID card or a utility bill or a bank statement will be sufficient.
With all these changes, voting can be confusing, so you can understand Rinker's concern. Some people might not vote this year because they don't have photo ID and they believe they need it. Others may show up and find out their registrations have been canceled.
I don't get the constant need for tinkering with election laws.
In one form or another the Virginia General Assembly has been around for 394 years. You'd think that over almost four centuries, they could have straightened it out by now.
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