Monday, July 30, 2012
Editorial: Misinformation clouds voter registration flap
Despite accusations, state law isn't clear on the validity of pre-printed voter application forms.
From the RoundTable blog
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It's regrettable that something as important as the right to vote has become the inspiration for a political circus in Virginia in recent weeks.
The Voter Participation Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, mailed 200,00 applications for registration across the commonwealth. Some of those forms generated confusion because they were sent to voters who had already registered, as well as deceased individuals and even a few pets.
The nonprofit did not help itself when it released an amateurish video of a dog advocating against feline voting rights. Attorneys for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pounced on the controversy and sent a letter to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli demanding an investigation of thousands of new voter registration forms received by registrars in the past two months.
News stories have repeatedly declared that the applications in the mass mailing violated state law and the constitution because the names and addresses of potential voters were pre-printed on the forms. In truth, the law is not so clear.
It states that applications "shall require the applicant to provide" a full name, gender and date of birth, but doesn't specifically say that the information must be handwritten by the individual. If applicants review pre-printed information for accuracy and sign their name, have they not provided the information as required? This is already a commonly accepted practice with voter registration forms collected through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The state constitution declares that applications "shall be completed by or at the direction of the applicant," and thus acknowledges that a third party may be involved. Jarringly, the constitution goes on to declare that the legislature can require as a qualification for registration "the ability of the applicant to read and complete in his own handwriting the application."
It is probably best that Virginia officials not get too sanctimonious about voter registration drives when their own constitution still contains the vestiges of an illegal literacy test.
The Virginia State Board of Elections has the authority to set policies and procedures where the law is unclear. The three-member board should do so in a manner that encourages all eligible Virginians to participate in the election of their leaders.
What the board does not have the power to do is to block the applications for thousands of individuals who filled out their forms in good faith and expect to vote in this fall's elections. That's not to say those applications should be exempt from review. They will be vetted, as all registration documents are, by city and county registrars, with assistance from a state database that filters for felons and deceased individuals.
If some of those applications turn out to be fraudulent, the perpetrators will face felony charges. That isn't a decision for the election board or Cuccinelli, however. Rather, jurisdiction lies with local prosecutors in the localities where potentially illegal activity takes place. On that point, the law is very clear.